Tech Briefs Magazine - February 2022 - MD-13

in an experimental lab setting. As an
additional bonus, the technology has
been deemed safe for clinical studies by
the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.
However, the team was stumped by
the fabrication process. Working with
the Cornell NanoScale Science and
Technology Facility (CNF), Luo tried to
create a prototype with photolithography,
but it was time-consuming, and the
results were unusable
The project received a crucial boost
when CNF purchased a new laser lithography
system called a NanoScribe, which
creates 3D nanostructures by direct-writing
onto a photosensitive resin. The
technology enabled the researchers to
easily tweak their designs at the micrometer
scale and produce new iterations
quickly.
Within six months, Luo had created
a triangular micro-robotic swimmer
that looks like an insect crossed with
a rocket ship. The swimmer's most
important feature is a pair of cavities
etched in its back. Because its resin material
is hydrophobic, when the robot
is submerged in solution, a tiny air
bubble is automatically trapped in each
cavity. When an ultrasound transducer
is aimed at the robot, the air bubble
oscillates, generating vortices - also
known as streaming flow - that propel
the swimmer forward.
Other engineers have previously
built " single bubble " swimmers, but the
Cornell researchers are the first to pioneer
a version that uses two bubbles,
each with a different diameter opening
in their respective cavity. By varying the
sound waves' resonance frequency, the
researchers can excite either bubble,
or tune them together, thereby controlling
which direction the swimmer
is propelled.
The challenge ahead will be to make
the swimmers biocompatible, so they
can navigate among blood cells that
are roughly the size as they are. Future
micro-swimmers will also need to consist
of biodegradable material, so that many
bots can be dispatched at once. In the
same way that only a single sperm needs
to be successful for fertilization, the
volume is key.
For more information, contact Becka
Bowyer at rpb224@cornell.edu; 607-220-4185.
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A scanning electron microscope image shows a
cell-size robotic swimmer that can be powered
and steered by ultrasound waves. (Photo: Cornell
University)
Motion Design, February 2022
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Tech Briefs Magazine - February 2022

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