It still sounds like Science Fiction — the next development in 3D printed science is a micro robotic fish.
Medical researchers from the University of California, San Diego have just started testing a new 3D printed nanotechnology that could be used for drug delivery or even removal of toxins (such as bee venom) from the body.
Published in the August issue of the journal Advanced Materials, a team of researchers from the NanoEngineering Department led by Shaochen Chen and Joseph Wang 3D printed micro fish that size up at 30 microns thick and 120 microns long.
Through a series of tests, the team were able to find the micro fish effective in purifying water that was contaminated with a toxin. Once in action, the fish glow red and swim around to completely decontaminate the water.
A New Method of Micro-Manufacture
The micro fish were developed using a high resolution 3D printer and a technique called microscale continuous optical printing (COP), which enables them to print hundreds of fish in just a few seconds. The fish are made of tiny pieces of platinum in the tail that form a reaction when in contact with hydrogen peroxide. If they are placed in hydrogen peroxide, the reaction causes their tails to move so that they start to swim. It is also possible for the researchers to use other particles in addition to platinum when producing the fish, such as chemicals that identify and eliminate toxins.
The method is still very new, so it might take a while before we see the results applied to medical practice.
High Hopes for Tiny Fish
Wei Zhu, a nanoengineering Ph.D. student and co-author on the study, said, "We have developed an entirely new method to engineer nature-inspired microscopic swimmers that have complex geometric structures and are smaller than the width of a human hair. With this method, we can easily integrate different functions inside these tiny robotic swimmers for a broad spectrum of applications.”
Jinxing Li, another researcher on the project, said in a press release, “This method has made it easier for us to test different designs for these microrobots and to test different nanoparticles to insert new functional elements into these tiny structures. It’s my personal hope to further this research to eventually develop surgical microrobots that operate safer and with more precision.”
The groundbreaking project has received support by the NIS as well as the Defense Threat Reduction Agency-Joint Science and Technology Office for Chemical and Biological Defense.