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Adv Sci (Weinh). 2017 Dec 1;5(2):1700461. doi: 10.1002/advs.201700461. eCollection 2018 Feb.

Swimming Back and Forth Using Planar Flagellar Propulsion at Low Reynolds Numbers.

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Department of Mechatronics Department of Materials Engineering Department of Physics German University in Cairo New Cairo 11835 Egypt.
Physical Intelligence Department Max Planck Institute for Intelligent Systems Stuttgart 70569 Germany.


Peritrichously flagellated Escherichia coli swim back and forth by wrapping their flagella together in a helical bundle. However, other monotrichous bacteria cannot swim back and forth with a single flagellum and planar wave propagation. Quantifying this observation, a magnetically driven soft two-tailed microrobot capable of reversing its swimming direction without making a U-turn trajectory or actively modifying the direction of wave propagation is designed and developed. The microrobot contains magnetic microparticles within the polymer matrix of its head and consists of two collinear, unequal, and opposite ultrathin tails. It is driven and steered using a uniform magnetic field along the direction of motion with a sinusoidally varying orthogonal component. Distinct reversal frequencies that enable selective and independent excitation of the first or the second tail of the microrobot based on their tail length ratio are found. While the first tail provides a propulsive force below one of the reversal frequencies, the second is almost passive, and the net propulsive force achieves flagellated motion along one direction. On the other hand, the second tail achieves flagellated propulsion along the opposite direction above the reversal frequency.


biologically inspired microrobots; flagellar propulsion; magnetic microparticles; soft microrobots

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