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Micromotors – future components at the heart of 'tiny laboratories' called microfluidic devices

09 October 2021

Changing Gears

For thousands of years, humans have used cogwheels and gears to turn everything from mill stones to clock hands to engines. But this new design – pushed around by light – churns microscopic particles as a prototype for a new kind of micromotor. The tiny gear (around 10,000 times smaller than a revolving door) is cut out of a polymer and placed on top of a photo-reactive material. A blast of light from above – using a device called optoelectronic tweezers – generates a force at the material’s surface. By rotating this light pattern – researchers call it a 'spanner' (shown in white) – the gear inside swooshes a swarm of particles along. Linked together into systems, micromotors have a bright future inside microfluidic devices, where clues to the behaviour of chemical currents around living cells may depend on their tiny revolutions.

Written by John Ankers

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BPoD stands for Biomedical Picture of the Day. Managed by the MRC Laboratory of Medical Sciences until Jul 2023, it is now run independently by a dedicated team of scientists and writers. The website aims to engage everyone, young and old, in the wonders of biology, and its influence on medicine. The ever-growing archive of more than 4000 research images documents over a decade of progress. Explore the collection and see what you discover. Images are kindly provided for inclusion on this website through the generosity of scientists across the globe.

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