Confined 1D Propulsion of Metallodielectric Janus Micromotors on Microelectrodes under Alternating Current Electric Fields

There is mounting interest in synthetic microswimmers (“micromotors”) as microrobots as well as a model system for the study of active matters, and spatial navigation is critical for their success. Current navigational technologies mostly rely on magnetic steering or guiding with physical boundaries, yet limitations with these strategies are plenty. Inspired by an earlier work with magnetic domains on a garnet film as predefined tracks, we present an interdigitated microelectrodes (IDE) system where, upon the application of AC electric fields, metallodielectric (e.g., SiO2–Ti) Janus particles are hydrodynamically confined and electrokinetically propelled in one dimension along the electrode center lines with tunable speeds. In addition, comoving micromotors moved in single files, while those moving in opposite directions primarily reoriented and moved past each other. At high particle densities, turbulence-like aggregates formed as many-body interactions became complicated. Furthermore, a micromotor made U-turns when approaching an electrode closure, while it gradually slowed down at the electrode opening and was collected in large piles. Labyrinth patterns made of serpentine chains of Janus particles emerged by modifying the electrode configuration. Most of these observations can be qualitatively understood by a combination of electroosmotic flows pointing inward to the electrodes, and asymmetric electrical polarization of the Janus particles under an AC electric field. Emerging from these observations is a strategy that not only powers and confines micromotors on prefabricated tracks in a contactless, on-demand manner, but is also capable of concentrating active particles at predefined locations. These features could prove useful for designing tunable tracks that steer synthetic microrobots, as well as to enable the study of single file diffusion, active turbulence, and other collective behaviors of active matters.