Magnets make life easier and serve many unseen functions in daily operations. But the usefulness of magnets on the micro scale is still being discovered.
Scientists at Arrgone National Laboratory working with tiny magnetic particles were able to create what the deemed "micro-robots," controlled by magnetic currents. Micro-robots, also dubbed "asters" for their flower-like formation when self assembled, were able to pick up, transport and put down non-magnetic objects. Applications for such a function could include micro-manufacturing operations.
Watch this video where the aster ushers around a piece of glass four times its size.
And this one where it acts like a vacuum cleaner enveloping and moving other particles.
"They can exert very small forces on objects, which is a big challenge for robotics," physicist Igor Aronson explained on Argonne's website. "Gripping fragile objects without smashing them has always been difficult for conventional robots."
As explained by Popular Science, the scientists put the magnetic particles between water and oil. Without a magnetic field applied they floated aimlessly, but when an alternating field was applied perpendicular to the liquid, the particles banded together. Applying a parallel magnetic field made the asters swim, according to Aronson and Alexey Snezhko. By changing this magnetic field Aronson and Snezhko were able to control these micro-robots.