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Scientists in Sweden have developed a micro-robot that does not break down in a liquid environment

Able to enter the vein and remove cholesterol layers

In a laboratory in Sweden, a tiny robot - small to no avail - moves microscopic glass blocks from one place to another with the help of a small arm and prepares for the big day when it will enter a vein and remove layers of cholesterol that have accumulated in it or remove unwanted guests, such as bacteria and viruses, that have entered the body.

Many laboratories around the world are now developing tiny robots, including insect-like flying micro-robots, but "none of them can operate in a liquid environment," wrote Edwin Jager of Linköping University in Sweden, in an article about the new development published last Friday in the journal "Science ". Jagger heads the team that created the new micro-robot.

The ability to operate in a liquid environment, such as blood or urine, allows this microrobot to be used for medical purposes. "Robots based on the same technology will be able to be worn on the end of a catheter, and be used to perform surgeries that require a high level of precision," Jager said. He added that a small fleet of several micro-robots could be used to build other tiny devices.

The researchers have so far created 140 micro-robots, which are 670 millionths of a meter high and 170 millionths of a meter wide. They are equipped with an arm, with a flexible elbow and wrist, and two or four fingers. "A lot of people try to make micro-robots out of silicon, because silicon is a good conductor of electricity, which makes it possible to control the robot. But the silicon oxidizes when it is exposed to liquids and stops working," Jager said. He and his colleagues solved this by combining silicon surfaces and gold surfaces, which both protect the silicon from oxidation and conduct electricity well.

Electrodes are attached to each joint so that the microrobot can move each part separately. Its movement is based on the swelling and contraction of another material incorporated in it, a polymer called polyprole. A positive electrical charge swells the material and causes the microrobot's arm to open and the discharge of the charge shrinks the material and causes its arm to close. In this way the micro-robot successfully swung the blocks of glass from one miniature conveyor to another, proving according to Jagger its "potential as a tiny worker".
{Appeared in Haaretz newspaper, 3/7/2000}
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