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Leiden University Researchers 3D-Print a Cell-Sized Tugboat

wallpapers News 2020-11-18

To better understand how swimmers like bacteria and sperm navigate liquids, a group of physicists from Leiden University in the Netherlands have recently 3D-printed the world’s smallest tugboat, which they dubbed Benchy.

“Unlike biological microswimmers which naturally occur in various shapes and forms, synthetic microswimmers have so far been limited almost exclusively to spherical shapes. Here, we exploit 3D printing to produce microswimmers with complex shapes in the colloidal size regime,” wrote the researchers in their paper.

Even though only 30 microns long and a third as thick as a human hair, the test object is impressively detailed, containing an open cockpit with fairly complex geometry that’s only visible through a microscope.

This cell-sized tugboat could easily sail down a single strand of human hair. Image courtesy of Leiden University/Soft Matter

The print was made inside a droplet that contains a material that hardens at the focal point of a laser, using the commercially available Nanoscribe 3D microprinter specially designed to implement a processe known as two-photon polymerisation (or 2PP).

“By moving the laser through the droplet in a controlled way, we can write the swimmer shape that we want,” said co-author Daniela Kraft. “Because the print is taking place inside the droplet, and we are printing layer by layer, we can maintain the open space [inside the tugboat cockpit].”

While the tugboat itself was printed mostly because it was “fun”, the research team also produced a number of more research-specific objects, including a spiral less than 5 microns in diameter.

According to the researchers, whose paper was recently published in the journal Soft Matter, the technique could eventually lead to the production of biological microswimmers that closely resemble their real-world counterparts, which would have a range of different applications.

“Ultimately, it will allow a greater control and design of the behaviour of synthetic microswimmers, useful for applications in therapeutic diagnostics and drug delivery,” wrote the authors in the concluding section of their paper.

Sources: paper, engadget.com


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