An interdisciplinary team at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich (ETH) has developed a new technique for manufacturing micrometer-long machines. According to an ETH press release, they have succeeded in interlocking metal and plastic for the first time. Both materials offer certain advantages in building micromachines.
As a rule, ETH reports that micromachines are powered from outside the body using magnetic fields. This means they must have magnetic metal parts installed. Polymers have the advantage that they can be used to construct soft, flexible components as well as parts that dissolve inside the body. If medication is embedded in this kind of soluble polymer, it is possible to selectively supply active substances to certain points in the body.
The new manufacturing technique is based on high-precision 3D printing, with which ETH Professor Salvador Pané has been experimenting for many years. As a proof of principle, ETH scientists have created various miniscule vehicles with plastic chassis and magnetic metal wheels. Their work has been published in the “Nature Communications” journal.
The scientists are now planning to experiment with other materials to create more complex shapes. Future applications of micromachines include treating aneurysms or performing other surgical procedures. Another research goal is to make stents (tube‑shaped vessel supports) that unfold themselves and can be positioned at a specific place in the body using magnetic fields.