Regular Article – Living Systems
Microgel that swims to the beat of light
DWI - Leibniz-Institut for Interactive Materials, RWTH university, Forckenbeckstr. 50, D-52056, Aachen, Germany
2 Institut of Technical and Macromolecular Chemistry der RWTH Aachen, Forckenbeckstr. 50, D-52056, Aachen, Germany
3 3 Max-Planck School Matter to life, D-69120, Heidelbergy, Germany
Accepted: 27 May 2021
Published online: 15 June 2021
Complementary to the quickly advancing understanding of the swimming of microorganisms, we demonstrate rather simple design principles for systems that can mimic swimming by body shape deformation. For this purpose, we developed a microswimmer that could be actuated and controlled by fast temperature changes through pulsed infrared light irradiation. The construction of the microswimmer has the following features: (i) it is a bilayer ribbon with a length of 80 or 120 m, consisting of a thermo-responsive hydrogel of poly-N-isopropylamide coated with a 2-nm layer of gold and equipped with homogeneously dispersed gold nanorods; (ii) the width of the ribbon is linearly tapered with a wider end of 5 m and a tip of 0.5 m; (iii) a thickness of only 1 and 2 m that ensures a maximum variation of the cross section of the ribbon along its length from square to rectangular. These wedge-shaped ribbons form conical helices when the hydrogel is swollen in cold water and extend to a filament-like object when the temperature is raised above the volume phase transition of the hydrogel at . The two ends of these ribbons undergo different but coupled modes of motion upon fast temperature cycling through plasmonic heating of the gel-objects from inside. Proper choice of the IR-light pulse sequence caused the ribbons to move at a rate of 6 body length/s (500 m/s) with the wider end ahead. Within the confinement of rectangular container of 30 m height and 300 m width, the different modes can be actuated in a way that the movement is directed by the energy input between spinning on the spot and fast forward locomotion.
© The Author(s) 2021
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