We are developing soft, flexible micromanipulators such as micro- tweezers for the handling and manipulation of biological species including cells and surgical tools for minimal invasive surgery. Our aim is to produce tools with minimal dimensions of 100 μm to 1 mm in size, which is 1-2 orders of magnitude smaller than existing technology. However, the displacement of the current developed micromanipulator remains limited due to the low ionic conductivity of the materials. Here, we present developed methods for the fabrication of conjugated polymer trilayer structure which exhibit potential to high stretchability/flexibility as well as a good adhesion between the three different layers. The outcomes of this study contribute to the realisation of low-foot print devices articulated with electroactive polymer actuators for which the physical interface with the power source has been a significant challenge limiting their application. Here, we present a new flexible trilayer structure, which will allow the fabrication of metal-free soft microactuators.
Cellular mechanotransduction is crucial for physiological function in the lower urinary tract. The bladder is highly dependent on the ability to sense and process mechanical inputs, illustrated by the regulated filling and voiding of the bladder. However, the mechanisms by which the bladder integrates mechanical inputs, such as intravesicular pressure, and controls the smooth muscles, remain unknown. To date no tools exist that satisfactorily mimic in vitro the dynamic micromechanical events initiated e.g. by an emerging inflammatory process or a growing tumour mass in the urinary tract. More specifically, there is a need for tools to study these events on a single cell level or in a small population of cells. We have developed a micromechanical stimulation chip that can apply physiologically relevant mechanical stimuli to single cells to study mechanosensitive cells in the urinary tract. The chips comprise arrays of microactuators based on the electroactive polymer polypyrrole (PPy). PPy offers unique possibilities and is a good candidate to provide such physiological mechanical stimulation, since it is driven at low voltages, is biocompatible, and can be microfabricated. The PPy microactuators can provide mechanical stimulation at different strains and/or strain rates to single cells or clusters of cells, including controls, all integrated on one single chip, without the need to preprepare the cells. This paper reports initial results on the mechano-response of urothelial cells using the micromechanical stimulation chips. We show that urothelial cells are viable on our microdevices and do respond with intracellular Ca2+ increase when subjected to a micro-mechanical stimulation.
Within the areas of cell biology, biomedicine and minimal invasive surgery, there is a need for soft, flexible and dextrous biocompatible manipulators for handling biological objects, such as single cells and tissues. Present day technologies are based on simple suction using micropipettes for grasping objects. The micropipettes lack the possibility of accurate force control, nor are they soft and compliant and may thus cause damage to the cells or tissue. Other micromanipulators use conventional electric motors however the further miniaturization of electrical motors and their associated gear boxes and/or push/pull wires has reached its limits. Therefore there is an urgent need for new technologies for micromanipulation of soft biological matter. <p> </p>We are developing soft, flexible micromanipulators such as micro- tweezers for the handling and manipulation of biological species including cells and surgical tools for minimal invasive surgery. Our aim is to produce tools with minimal dimensions of 100 μm to 1 mm in size, which is 1-2 orders of magnitude smaller than existing technology. We present newly developed patterning and microfabrication methods for polymer microactuators as well as the latest results to integrate these microactuators into easy to use manipulation tools. The outcomes of this study contribute to the realisation of low-foot print devices articulated with electroactive polymer actuators for which the physical interface with the power source has been a significant challenge limiting their application. Here, we present a new bottom-up microfabrication process. We show for the first time that such a bottom-up fabricated actuator performs a movement in air. This is a significant step towards widening the application areas of the soft microactuators.
There is a growing demand for human-friendly robots that can interact and work closely with humans. Such robots need to be compliant, lightweight and equipped with silent and soft actuators. Electroactive polymers such as conducting polymers (CPs) are “smart” materials that deform in response to electrical simulation and are often addressed as artificial muscles due to their functional similarity with natural muscles. They offer unique possibilities and are perfect candidates for such actuators since they are lightweight, silent, and driven at low voltages. Most CP actuators are fabricated using electrochemical oxidative synthesis. We have developed new CP based fibres employing both vapour phase and liquid phase electrochemical synthesis. We will present the fabrication and characterisation of these fibres as well as their performance as linear actuators.
This paper presents the synthesis and characterization of thin and ultra-fast conducting polymer microactuators which can operate in the open air. Compared to all previous existing electronic conducting polymer based microactuators, this approach deals with the synthesis of robust interpenetrating polymer networks (IPNs) combined with a spincoating technique in order to tune and drastically reduce the thickness of conducting IPN microactuators using a so-called “trilayer” configuration. Patterning of electroactive materials has been performed with existing technologies, such as standard photolithography and dry etching. The smallest air-operating microbeam actuator based on conducting polymer is then described with dimensions as low as 160x30x6 μm3. Under electrical stimulation the translations of small ion motion into bending deformations are used as tools to demonstrate that small ion vibrations can still occur at frequency as several hundreds of Hz. Conducting IPN microactuators are then promising candidates to develop new MEMS combining downscaling, softness, low driving voltage, and fast response speed.