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ABIOMATER Report Summary

Project ID: 665440
Funded under: H2020-EU.1.2.1.

Periodic Reporting for period 1 - ABIOMATER (Magnetically actuated bio-inspired metamaterials)

Reporting period: 2015-11-01 to 2016-10-31

Summary of the context and overall objectives of the project

One of the main technological problems currently addressed by a number of research groups is the development of microscopic machines/robots capable of operating at fluidic environments. This problem is related to a number of technological needs/applications which are essential in providing further breackthroughs in the areas of bio-medicine and bio-technology. The ABIOMATER project aims to deliver a new class of metamaterials whose mechanical and optical properties can be controlled by external magnetic fields. Central to this aim is the development of the basic building-block of the metamaterial, the micromotor, composed of interacting ferromagnetic particles with different anisotropic properties, connected by an elastic link. Individually, the micromotors provide solutions for generating propulsion in viscous (low Reynold’s number) fluids. Going beyond this, the ABIOMATER project aims to link micromotors together to form magneto-elastic membranes, a new type of metamaterial. Exploration of the functionality of these new materials will lead to the development of prototype devices, providing novel solutions to applications in microfluidics, optics and the biosciences.

The specific objectives of the ABIOMATER project are to:
1) Implement and demonstrate a microscopic version of the micromotor;
2) Develop and explore, both experimentally and theoretically, magneto-elastic membranes based on the microscopic motors;
3) Build and explore experimentally and theoretically prototype devices, including 3D microfluidic constructs, microfluidic pump, cell growth templates, tuneable optic/photonic materials and artificial muscle analogues.

Work performed from the beginning of the project to the end of the period covered by the report and main results achieved so far

The main challenge of the first year of the project was to implement a microscopic version of a single micromotor and explore its performance. As detailed in the periodic report there were four tasks related to this work, which were split between the partners and carried out according to the expertise of each team.
Task 1. The task focused on developing lithographic fabrication procedures for construction of the devices. Based on the initially proposed methodology, the teams investigated different different methods, materials and techniques for making the devices. While UNEXE focused on the design with ‘hard-soft’ particles, CEA worked on the design with identical particles operating in a ‘tweezers’ regime. As a result of this work, both type of devices were successfully implemented.
Task 2. This task was fully theoretical and its main goal was to build the necessary formalism and numerical tools for understanding the properties of micromotors and exploring the relevant parameter space related to the geometric design and the surrounding external conditions of the micromotors. In particular, different regimes of the actuating magnetic fields and interaction between the micromotors and external surfaces, and between the micromotors within a larger linked agglomerate, were investigated. Similar to task one, a particular aspect of this work was to form initial prerequisites for studying the magnetoelastic membranes formed from the micromotors. The main objectives of this work were successfully achieved. The validity of the results were primarily justified by the similarity of the behaviour and trends of motion demonstrated by the experimental prototypes.
Task 3. The aim of this task was to explore experimentally the produced microscopic prototypes of the micromotors and their hydrodynamic properties in liquids. The swimming characteristics were investigate for liquid/air and liquid/surface interfaces. The maximal average speeds that were achieved, in the order of 50 μm/s (~ 0.7 body length per second), were found comparable with the other type of magnetic swimmers. Furthermore, as was shown in the experiments with self-propulsion close to the surface/liquid interface, the average speed was found overall to increase reaching up to 250 μm/s (~ 3.5 body length per second) at the optimum conditions. The experiments on the micromotor-micromotor interactions showed, that there are possible regimes in which two micromotors can self-propel together, keeping a proximity distance without collapsing onto each other. The speed of propagation was found to increase for such systems.
Task 4. The aim of this task was to understand how the direction of propagation is related to the regimes of micromotor’s motion and find the necessary conditions of the field for controlling it. The experiments were carried out on the macroscopic systems. The results of this study have now been submitted for publication in Scientific Reports. Our initial theoretical work demonstrated that depending on the intrinsic parameters of the system, e.g. the anisotropy, and the parameters of the field the micromotor can exhibit different regimes of actuation. This in its turn determines the direction of propagation and its variation with the frequency of activation. The experiments with macroscopic prototypes confirmed that there is a good correlation between the theoretic and experimental results, even with a simplified description of the system. It was also found that the direction of propagation can change as function of frequency and thus provide a very useful mechanism for controlling the motion of the micromotor.

Progress beyond the state of the art and expected potential impact (including the socio-economic impact and the wider societal implications of the project so far)

One of the main achievements of the project at this stage is a successful realisation of the microscopic version of the micromotor and the demonstration of its self-propelled motion both at water/air interface and close to surfaces. The observed characteristics of swimming were found on a par or exceeding those shown by other magnetically actuated swimmers. The study of the magnetic activation showed a variety of regimes of motion and the possibility of control of the orientation and the speed of the directional propagation.
The results of the experimental observations clearly demonstrate the validity of the chosen methodology and the proof of concept of the base units for the proposed magneto-elastic metamaterial. From the technological point of view, both type of microscopic and macroscopic micromotors can be already usefully utilised in different microfluidic and biomedical applications. As an example, a prototype of a magnetically actuated microfluidic pump was constructed and successfully demonstrated.
Finally, we emphasise that this is the first realisation of low Reynolds number self-propelled devices based entirely on standard lithographic techniques employed at many mass-produced technologies (e.g. CMOS technologies). Compared to other ‘swimmers’ (e.g. devices based on colloidal particles), our micromotors can be easily integrated as part of the standard lab-on-a-chip technology with minimum costs for materials or processes used for implementation. Furthermore, given the broad flexibility in the design and geometry of the system it can be easily modified and improved with no extra cost for fabrication processes. This offers a great potential for production of low-cost disposable microfluidic chips which would be invaluable in medical diagnostics and biotechnology.
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