Tiny Machine Commands a Swarm of Bacteria

Posted on May 19, 2009  Comments (1)

Tiny Machine Commands a Swarm of Bacteria

Researchers in Canada have created a solar-powered micro-machine that is no bigger than the period at the end of this sentence. The tiny machine can carry out basic sensing tasks and can indirectly control the movement of a swarm of bacteria in the same Petri dish.

Sylvain Martel, Director of the NanoRobotics Laboratory at the École Polytechnique de Montréal, previously showed a way to control bacteria attached to microbeads using an MRI machine. His new micro-machine, which measure 300×300 microns and carry tiny solar panels, will be presented this week at ICRA ’09 in Japan.

On such a small device there is little room for batteries, sensors or transmitters. So the solar cell on top delivers power, sending an electric current to both a sensor and a communication circuit. The communication component sends tiny electromagnetic pulses that are detected by an external computer.

The sensor meanwhile detects surrounding pH levels–the higher the pH concentration, the faster the electromagnetic pulses emitted by the micro-machine. The external computer uses these signals to direct a swarm of about 3,000 magnetically-sensitive bacteria, which push the micro-machine around as it pulses. The bacteria push the micro-machine closer to the higher pH concentrations and change its direction if it pulses too slowly. This is more practical than trying to attach the bacteria onto the micro-machines, says Martel, since the bacteria only have a lifespan of a few hours. “It’s like having a propulsion engine on demand,” he says…

Related: Self-assembling Nanofibers Heal Spinal Cords in MiceNanotechnology Breakthroughs for Computer ChipsUsing Bacteria to Carry Nanoparticles Into Cells

One Response to “Tiny Machine Commands a Swarm of Bacteria”

  1. Curious Cat Science and Engineering Blog » Using Bacteria to Power Microscopic Machines
    March 31st, 2010 @ 7:51 am

    […] Tiny Machine Commands a Swarm of Bacteria – Using Bacteria to Carry Nanoparticles Into Cells – Moving Closer to Robots Swimming […]

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