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Wafer-Scale Fabrication of Micro- to Nanoscale Bubble Swimmers and Their Fast Autonomous Propulsion by Ultrasound

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posted on 27.05.2020, 21:32 by Jeffrey M. McNeill, Nitesh Nama, Jesse M. Braxton, Thomas E. Mallouk
Fuel-free, biocompatible swimmers with dimensions smaller than one micrometer have the potential to revolutionize the way we study and manipulate microscopic systems. Sub-micrometer, metallic Janus particles can be propelled rapidly and autonomously by acoustically induced fluid streaming, but their operation at acoustic pressure nodes limits their utility. In contrast, bubble-based microswimmers have an “on board” resonant cavity that enables them to operate far from the source of acoustic power. So far, they have been fabricated by direct writing techniques that limit both their minimum dimensions and the number that can be produced. Consequently, the size scaling of the properties of bubble swimmers has not been explored experimentally. Additionally, 3D autonomous motion has not yet been demonstrated for this type of swimmer. We describe here a method for fabricating bubble swimmers in large numbers (>109) with sizes ranging from 5 μm to 500 nm without direct writing or photolithographic tools. These swimmers follow a previously proposed scaling theory and reveal useful phenomena that enable their propulsion in different modes in the same experiment: with magnetic steering, autonomously in 3D, and in frequency-specific autonomous modes. These interesting behaviors are relevant to possible applications of autonomously moving micro- and nanorobots.