10 May 2024
by Sarah Morgan

Swimming robot swarms capture microplastics

Smart swimming micromachines have been developed to swarm and capture bacteria and microplastics.

Microbot swarms have the potential to clean up aquatic environments. © Photo by Joseph Barrientos on Unsplash

Smart swimming micromachines, with swarming and collective behaviours typically observed in animals and microorganisms, for efficient task execution.

The magnetically controlled microrobots possess polymeric sequestrant ‘hands’ decorating a magnetic core.

The paper Magnetic Microrobot Swarms with Polymeric Hands Catching Bacteria and Microplastics in Water in ACS Nano, states, ‘Under the influence of external magnetic fields, the functionalised magnetic beads dynamically self-assemble from individual microparticles into well-defined rotating planes of diverse dimensions, allowing modulation of their propulsion speed, and exhibiting a collective motion.’

The paper reports these mobile microrobotic swarms can actively capture free-swimming bacteria and dispersed microplastics to clean aquatic environments.

These microrobots can reportedly be collected from the complex media and can release the captured contaminants in a second vessel in a controllable manner, using ultrasound, offering a sustainable solution for repeated use in decontamination processes.

The study states that the residual water is subjected to ultraviolet irradiation to eliminate any remaining bacteria, providing a comprehensive cleaning solution.