Researchers at the American Chemical Society have created a light-activated robot resembling a fish that can swim around quickly, collecting microplastics from the water. With microplastics now found everywhere on the earth, the robot might be instrumental in measuring microplastic concentrations.
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Microplastics have become a menace in the world today, due to the difficulty in tracking them. Recently, studies have also shown that microplastics have spread to even the most remote areas of the earth, and have been detected in the bloodstreams of humans and animals. The particles are known to have some effects on human health and their presence in the ecosystem has become a threat.
Related: Microplastics contaminate human blood, says new study
The researchers have demonstrated that the robot can repeatedly adsorb nearby polystyrene microplastics and transport them somewhere else. More interestingly is the fact that the material used in the robot is self-healing if it is cut. Consequently, it maintains its ability to adsorb microplastics for a very long time. The researchers are now pushing for the robot to be used in the management of microplastics in water sources.
One of the major issues that has been a problem in attempts to create such a robot has always been the materials used. The traditional hydrogels and elastomers used in the construction of robots can easily get damaged in aquatic environments. However, the researchers behind the new robot came up with a new material suitable for the ocean environment, which resembles nacre, a substance found in the clam shells. The material is highly flexible and makes the robot propel at ultra-high speeds.
Studies were done to find suitable material that could make the robot flexible, but also durable. The final product was found capable of moving 2.67 body lengths per second, making it much faster than previously reported. It had earlier been said to have the same speed as active phytoplankton.
Lead image via Pexels