Alfredo Alexander-Katz in MIT's Department of Materials Science and Engineering and his students have devised a novel way of moving tiny particles.
They set out to mimic the natural system found within organs such as the intestines, in which cilia (tiny filaments) beat in unison, sweeping nutrients along.
To do this, the scientists took tiny beads, each one micron (one millionth of a meter) in diameter, impregnated them with magnets and suspended the beads in a rotating magnetic field. The beads formed into short spinning chains, creating currents that could carry other particles along with them. In some cases, these particles were 100 times larger than the beads, causing Alexander-Katz to nickname the beads ‘micro-ants’.Today, microfluidics, or the control of tiny amounts of fluid, is used in the manufacture of electronic components. The MIT team hopes that their new method will prove to be a simpler and cheaper alternative for making computer chips, or even targeting medicines to specific locations.