Controlling Artificial Cilia with Magnetic Fields and Light

Photograph of an array of magnetic cilia, folded and held in the tip of tweezers. Photo credit: Jessica A.-C. Liu.

Researchers from North Carolina State University and Elon University have made artificial cilia, or hair-like structures, that can bend into new shapes in response to a magnetic field, then return to their original shape when exposed to the proper light source.

“This work expands the capabilities of magnetic cilia and our understanding of their behaviors, which has potential applications in soft robotics, including microrobotics,” says Joe Tracy, corresponding author of a paper on the work and a professor of materials science and engineering at NC State. “A key point of this work is that we’ve demonstrated shape memory magnetic cilia whose shape can be set, locked, unlocked and reconfigured. This property will be useful for enhanced and new applications.”

“These shape memory magnetic cilia are also simple to fabricate through self-assembly using inexpensive permanent magnets,” says Jessica Liu, first author of the paper and a recent Ph.D. graduate from NC State. “We’re optimistic that these demonstrations and our model can help the research community design ciliary systems with new capabilities for specific applications.”

“We think this work will contribute to advancing the capabilities of soft robotics,” Tracy says.

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