Microscopic 'hands' for building tomorrow's machines

January 19, 2009
Engineers have developed tiny, robotic hands -- also known as microgrippers -- that could be used in lab-on-a-chip applications. Credit: American Chemical Society

In a finding straight out of science fiction, chemical and biomolecular engineers in Maryland are describing development of microscopic, chemically triggered robotic "hands" that can pick up and move small objects. They could be used in laboratory-on-a-chip applications, reconfigurable microfluidic systems, and micromanufacturing, the researchers say. A report on their so-called "microgrippers" is in the December 3, 2008 issue of the Journal of the American Chemical Society.

In the new study, David Gracias and colleagues note that researchers have long sought to develop chemically triggered microscopic devices that can manipulate small objects with precision. Chemical actuation occurs in biological machinery and enables autonomous function in nature with high specificity and selectivity. Although other scientists have made experimental "grippers" in the lab, these devices generally require the use of batteries and wiring, making them hard to miniaturize and maneuver in small spaces and convoluted conduits.

The researchers describe development of tiny metallic microgrippers shaped like a hand that work without electricity. The grippers are about 0.03 inches wide when open — smaller than the diameter of a grain of sand and made from a gold-coated nickel "palm" joined by six pointy metallic "fingers." The addition of certain chemicals triggers the hands to open or close. In laboratory studies, the scientists demonstrated that the grippers could grasp and release tiny pipes and glass beads and transport these objects to distant locations with the aid of a magnet, showcasing their potential for pick-and-place operations that are ubiquitous in manufacturing, they say.

They also say that this demonstration is also a step toward the development of Micro Chemo Mechanical Systems (MCMS) in contrast to the already well established field of Micro Electro Mechanical Systems (MEMS); the main difference being that the tools are triggered by chemistry as opposed to electricity.

Paper: "Pick-and-Place Using Chemically Actuated Microgrippers"
pubs.acs.org/stoken/presspac/presspac/full/10.1021/ja806961p

Source: ACS

Explore further: Why we should welcome 'killer robots', not ban them

Related Stories

Why we should welcome 'killer robots', not ban them

July 30, 2015

The open letter signed by more than 12,000 prominent people calling for a ban on artificially intelligent killer robots, connected to arguments for a UN ban on the same, is misguided and perhaps even reckless.

Reproducible research for biofuels and biogas

July 30, 2015

New research in the Open Access journal GigaScience presents a virtual package of data for biogas production, made reusable in a containerized form to allow scientists to better understand the production of biofuels.

Studying killer whales with an unmanned aerial vehicle

July 30, 2015

Last year, for the first time, scientists used an unmanned aerial vehicle, or UAV, to study killer whales from above. In an article published this month in the Journal of Unmanned Vehicle Systems, scientists describe how ...

Auctions are not best options for abandoned property

July 29, 2015

If officials in distressed cities want their communities to recover, abandoned commercial and residential properties would be available through a managed sales program rather than auctions, according to a new University of ...

Recommended for you

Innovations from the wild world of optics and photonics

August 2, 2015

Traditional computers manipulate electrons to turn our keystrokes and Google searches into meaningful actions. But as components of the computer processor shrink to only a few atoms across, those same electrons become unpredictable ...

Shedding light on millipede evolution

August 2, 2015

As an National Science Foundation (NSF)-funded entomologist, Virginia Tech's Paul Marek has to spend much of his time in the field, hunting for rare and scientifically significant species. He's provided NSF with an inside ...

Better together: graphene-nanotube hybrid switches

August 2, 2015

Graphene has been called a wonder material, capable of performing great and unusual material acrobatics. Boron nitride nanotubes are no slackers in the materials realm either, and can be engineered for physical and biological ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.