Dutch physicists from Leiden University are taking the idea of "to boldly go" to whole new level -- and an incredibly small one at that. The researchers have created a microscopic microprinted ship that looks like Star Trek's USS Voyager as part of larger research experiment and the creation doesn't just look like the USS Voyager; the tiny ship actually moves on its own through liquid.
The ship was highlighted in a scientific paper entitled "Catalytically propelled 3D colloidal microswimmers" that was published last month in the journal Soft Matter and is one of several artificial "microswimmers" the researchers created -- others include a variety of other designs and a tiny boat, 3DBenchy. The very miniature Voyager measures microns in size and is able to move thanks to chemical reactions between the platinum coating and the hydrogen peroxide solution it was placed in (via The Verge). The Voyager shape, as well as the others included in the study, were chosen to produce results different than the more typical sphere shapes researchers had used previously.
The designs were also chosen to test the abilities of the researchers' macroscopic 3D printer -- particularly the little boat.
"3D Benchy is a structure that has been designed to test macroscopic 3D printers because it has several challenging features, and it was natural to also try it at the micrometer scale" researcher Daniela Kraft told Gizmodo.
In terms of what the research may do for science, the researchers are hopeful that these 3D printed will help them learn more about biological microswimmers, a broad category that includes things such as bacteria, white blood cells, and even sperm. Gaining a better understanding of how those work could help eventually pave the way for the medical use of synthetic microswimmers.
"Our results demonstrate that 3D microprinting overcomes current limitations in the fabrication of active microswimmers with complex shapes and controlled patch location. It opens the door to studying and quantifying shape-dependent motion of active microswimmers, their interactions and collective behavior, but also navigation in complex environments that rely on alignment through shape-induced torques," the study concludes. "These particles might also be employed to gain a better understanding of the propulsion mechanism, and help in the understanding of biological microswimmers and active matter. Ultimately, it will allow a greater control and design of the behavior of synthetic microswimmers, useful for applications in therapeutic diagnostics and drug delivery."
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