Saturday, October 08, 2005

Microscopic artificial swimmers


"Microorganisms such as bacteria and many eukaryotic cells propel themselves with hair-like structures known as flagella, which can exhibit a variety of structures and movement patterns. For example, bacterial flagella are helically shaped and driven at their bases by a reversible rotary engine, which rotates the attached flagellum to give a motion similar to that of a corkscrew. In contrast, eukaryotic cells use flagella that resemble elastic rods4 and exhibit a beating motion: internally generated stresses give rise to a series of bends that propagate towards the tip. In contrast to this variety of swimming strategies encountered in nature, a controlled swimming motion of artificial micrometre-sized structures has not yet been realized. Here we show that a linear chain of colloidal magnetic particles linked by DNA and attached to a red blood cell can act as a flexible artificial flagellum. The filament aligns with an external uniform magnetic field and is readily actuated by oscillating a transverse field. We find that the actuation induces a beating pattern that propels the structure, and that the external fields can be adjusted to control the velocity and the direction of motion.

Laboratoire Colloïdes et Matériaux Divisés, ESPCI, UMR CNRS 7612 UPMC, ParisTech, 10 rue Vauquelin, 75005 Paris, France
Division of Engineering and Applied Sciences, Harvard University, Cambridge, Massachusetts 02138, USA
Laboratoire Physique et Mécanique des Milieux Hétérogènes, ESPCI, UMR CNRS 7636, ParisTech, 10 rue Vauquelin, 75005 Paris, France"