Aug. 7 (UPI) -- Scientists have designed a tiny robot made of microscopic cubes capable of changing shape when triggered by a magnetic field. Once initiated, the microbot can derive energy from the surrounding environment.
The technology, called microbot origami, can be used to capture and carry single cells.
"This research is about a topic of current interest -- active particles which take energy from their environment and convert it into directional movement," Orlin Velev, a professor of chemical and biomolecular engineering at North Carolina State University, said in a news release.
The mini robot is made of polymer cubes, each with a single magnetic side. They can be compelled to assemble into a variety of unique structures.
The nanoparticles making up the cubes can be compelled to form Pac-Man-like clusters, opening and closing as magnetic force is applied and removed.
"You can open them by applying a magnetic field and then let them close by turning the magnetic field off," Velev said. "They close because they are releasing the stored magnetic energy."
In recent tests, scientists successfully used the microbots to surround and capture a single yeast cell. Researchers were able to transport and later release the captured cell.
"We've shown here a prototype of self-folding microbot, that can be used as a microtool to probe the response of specific types of cells, like cancer cells, for instance," Velev said.
Scientists say the folding particle clusters and cubic structures mimic the shape and behavior of proteins and amino acids.
"The sequence of amino acids in a protein will determine how it folds, just as the sequence of cubes in our microbot will determine how it folds," said Wyatt Shields, a postdoctoral researcher at Duke University.
Researchers detailed the new technology in the journal Science Advances.