Ayusman Sen, Ph.D. (PI)
Distinguished Professor, Department of Chemistry
Penn State University
Anna C. Balazs, Ph.D. (Co-PI)
Distinguished Professor, Department of Chemical & Petroleum Engineering
University of Pittsburgh
Autonomous Interacting Microrobotic Systems
Abstract: The goal of the proposed research is to answer the challenge: Can we design self-powered synthetic materials that self-organize—based on signals from each other and from their environment—and thereby perform complex, coordinated tasks? The specific questions to be addressed are: (a) Can we design purely synthetic materials that autonomously process energy and information and, hence, begin to mimic salient biological behavior? (b) Can these materials effectively “network” to share information and perform cooperative, coordinated activities? These questions lie at the heart of critical issues in both the physical and biological sciences. We will focus on devising chemically-powered “motors” and “pumps”. Motors are motile objects that transduce chemical energy into mechanical motion. When these motors are anchored onto a surface, they transfer their chemically-generated force to the surrounding fluid and, hence, function as fluidic pumps. By creating systems of autonomous motors and pumps that have the capacity to transduce energy, move and communicate, we will lay the foundations for fabricating self-powered, small-scale robotic systems that can perform “collaborative” work. The proposed research involves a new collaboration that utilizes knowledge of synthetic chemistry and catalysis (Ayusman Sen, Penn State), as well as fluid dynamics and computational modeling (Anna C. Balazs, Univ. Pittsburgh).