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"

Source: ACS

Explore further: Tracking nanowalkers with light

Related Stories

Tracking nanowalkers with light

September 25, 2015

Nanotechnology is taking its first steps. Researchers from the Max Planck Institute for Intelligent Systems in Stuttgart have developed a gold nanocylinder equipped with discrete DNA strands as 'feet' that can walk across ...

Ground-based Schlieren technique looks to the sun and moon

September 25, 2015

In the wake of recent success with air-to-air schlieren photography using the speckled desert floor as a background, researchers at NASA's Armstrong Flight Research Center, Edwards, California, are now looking to the heavens ...

How to build the world's fastest car

September 24, 2015

In 2016, a team of engineers and adventurers will travel to the South African desert and attempt to become the first people to drive a car at 1,000mph. The British-made vehicle, Bloodhound SSC, is designed to smash the current ...

Real-time data for smart electric mobility

September 24, 2015

Information is the basis of smart mobility. Information technology can support the car driver in safe, inexpensive, and sustainable driving or organize reliable exchange of information among electric mobility users, cars, ...

Recommended for you

'Bridge' fuel may escalate atmospheric greenhouse gas

October 13, 2015

While the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) suggests there has been a decline in measurable atmospheric greenhouse gas emissions from fossil fuel use in the U.S. for the past seven years, a Cornell scientist says ...


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.