A Fantastic Voyage – From Bacteria to Micro-robots

December 8, 2016
World Cafe Live

3025 Walnut Street
Philadelphia, PA 19104

Paulo E. Arratia / A Fantastic Voyage – From Bacteria to Micro-robots Paulo E. Arratia
University of Pennsylvania
A Fantastic Voyage – From Bacteria to Micro-robots

In 1966, the science fiction flick Fantastic Voyage had a submarine crew shrunk to microscopic size to travel through a person’s body to fight brain disease and remove a clot. Traveling in their miniaturized submarine, Proteus, the crew fights off the body’s immune system and successfully completes their task. Today, scientists and engineers around the world are trying to make this voyage a reality – or at least the good parts of it. In this talk, I will review a few fundamental ideas and concepts in trying to design microscopic sized robots and the many challenges that still need to be overcome. In particular, I will discuss the main challenges in achieving efficient motility or propulsion as the system size (i.e. submarine) shrinks down to the micro- and/or nano-scale. I will argue that one can learn quite a bit from nature. Microorganisms such as bacteria, algae, and sperm cells have learned how to actively move in a diverse set of environments. By studying these biological systems in detail we may be able to mimic and reverse engineer their success.