With the creation of an entirely inorganic robotic system about the size of a red blood cell—just seven to ten microns in diameter—the team in the lab of Michael Strano at the MIT Department of Engineering is reaching previously inaccessible locations in the human body and various other environments found within and useful to industry, such as chemical reactors, oil pipelines, and soil matrices.
In 2018, they published landmark papers detailing two prototypes of these tiny robotic systems, one which was used as a component of aerosolizable electronics in which they were nebulized and sent through a pipe, light enough to travel along with the air flow. The robots were able to detect different chemicals and respond to light within the pipes, and then be gathered for the collection of data. The second prototype was launched into a body of water where it was capable of detecting various chemicals and responding to magnetic fields, and therefore able to detect nutrients in soil matrices that were good or bad for plant growth.
Albert Liu is a presidential fellow and member of Michael Strano’s lab at MIT, and he has an extensive laboratory background. He brings a wealth of knowledge to the conversation, explaining the ins and outs of this new technology, the challenges that come along with creating and powering such small systems, and the tradeoffs between artificial and biological systems. Press play for all the details.
Mass producing colloidal electronics (with a video):
Nature Nano reference:
Nature Materials reference: