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Catalytic Propulsion and Magnetic Steering of Soft, Patchy Microcapsules: Ability to Pick-Up and Drop-Off Microscale Cargo

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posted on 13.06.2016, 14:48 by Annie Xi Lu, Yijing Liu, Hyuntaek Oh, Ankit Gargava, Eric Kendall, Zhihong Nie, Don L. DeVoe, Srinivasa R. Raghavan
We describe the creation of polymeric microcapsules that can exhibit autonomous motion along defined trajectories. The capsules are made by cross-linking aqueous microdroplets of the biopolymer chitosan using glutaraldehyde. A coflow microfluidic tubing device is used to generate chitosan droplets containing nanoparticles (NPs) with an iron (Fe) core and a platinum (Pt) shell. The droplets are then incubated in a Petri dish with the cross-linking solution, and an external magnet is placed below the Petri dish to pull the NPs together as a collective “patch” on one end of each droplet. This results in cross-linked capsules (∼150 μm in diameter) with an anisotropic (patchy) structure. When these capsules are placed in a solution of H2O2, the Pt shell of the NPs catalyzes the decomposition of H2O2 into O2 gas, which is ejected from the patchy end in the form of bubbles. As a result, the capsules (which are termed micromotors) move in a direction opposite to the bubbles. Furthermore, the micromotors can be steered along specific paths by an external magnet (the magnetic response arises due to the Fe in the core of the NPs). A given micromotor can thus be directed to meet with and adhere to an inert capsule, i.e., a model cargo. Adhesion occurs due to the soft nature of the two structures. Once the cargo is picked up, the micromotor-cargo pair can be moved along a specific path to a destination, whereupon the cargo can be released from the micromotor. We believe these soft micromotors offer significant benefits over their existing hard counterparts because of their biocompatibility, biodegradability, and ability to encapsulate a variety of payloads.

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