Researcher Receives £1.25 Million to Create New 'Living' Micro-Machines

The grant was given by the European Research Council, and covers research for the next five years.

Researcher Receives £1.25 Million to Create New 'Living' Micro-Machines
Living Micro-Machines Loughborough University

Loughborough University academic and researcher, Dr. Tyler Shendruk, has just been awarded more than £1.25 million by the European Research Council in order to create 'living' micro-machines.

These minuscule machines should be able to self-assemble in their biological environments. Furthermore, these little machines will be able to draw energy from their surroundings to create and power themselves.

This grant is meant to cover the costs of this research project for the next five years.

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Why is this research so important?

Meant to replicate the behaviors of biological molecules and microorganisms, these new man-made materials should, in theory, be able to function much in the same way. 

Dr. Shendruk will use a combination of two research areas — colloidal self-assembly, and active matter — to design 'living' colloidal liquid crystals. 

Essentially, the idea is to copy the format of biological materials that are able to form, restructure, and move. For example, bacteria, like the Salmonella bacteria, can move and propel themselves into more favorable environments all on their own.

This type of self-operating living matter is what Dr. Shendruk hopes to recreate in lifeless human-created materials. 

How will Dr. Shendruk do this?

The scientist will use computational simulations for his research on biological matter. The final aim is to create 'living' colloidal liquid crystals — a new type of soft material that can form, restructure, and move themselves. 

Colloids are small particles suspended in a fluid medium (gas or a liquid), which cannot be separated through regular filtration methods. For instance, coffee is a colloid as coffee grounds are small suspended, solid particles in hot water. 

Self-assembling is the process whereby colloids come together and create complex structures. 

'Living' colloidal liquid crystals

Traditional liquid crystals move just like water — when forced by pressure, gravity, or another external push. 

However, this new class of 'living' fluids has the ability to move on their own — much like the bacteria mentioned above, that shift themselves to more favorable environments. 

How do they do this? Their own organism stores their fuel, and these are referred to as 'living' liquids. 

If successful, this discovery could be useful for several applications. 

Dr. Shendruk himself said, "Just like robots aren’t just for one single task but can do many things, I hope our ‘living’ colloidal liquid crystals might form micro-bots that could do all sorts tiny tasks."

Researcher Receives £1.25 Million to Create New 'Living' Micro-Machines
Dr. Tyler Shendruk. Source: Loughborough University

Shendruk continued: "The research aims to produce colloidal structures with autonomous functionality, including self-motility, self-revolution, and dynamical self-transformations, which are exactly the characteristics one would desire for a first generation of autonomous components of micro-biomechanical systems and soft micro-machines."

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And he finished by saying, "As hybrids between biological active fluids and simple man-made materials, I hope they have the potential for autonomously tunable material properties, mimicking biological complexity, and maybe even someday working together with biology."

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