Micron-Size Robots—Route to Making Extraordinary Materials

Imagine if new bulk materials and surfaces could be made of micron-sized robotic elements. When presented with specific requirements, an algorithm could compute in seconds the appropriate microscopic features, and the material would spring to life as the robots change shape or assemble, to the new, optimized state. Such micron-size robots would allow for the re-imagining of materials as fundamentally dynamic.

Itai Cohen, Physics, and his group are making seminal advances critical for achieving this vision of emergent matter by using a new atomic origami technology platform to create machines and robots at the cellular scale. These machines are based on a novel graphene-silicone bimorph technology, which enables them to transform between wildly different conformations, have folds that respond to electrical, thermal, as well as chemical signals, and to carry electronics.

Moving forward, Cohen is using Cornell’s state-of-the-art nanofabrication facilities to create systems that can achieve reversible bi-directional folding and to develop surfaces and devices that invert to expose hydrophilic or other chemical functionalities. Other key goals include developing a bimorph platform that enables reversible electronic actuation for selective folding and locomotion, controlled interaction mechanisms between subunits, and methods for integrating electronics components that enable powering, sensing, and communication.

The crowning achievement will be the full integration of these components to generate the robotic building blocks that give rise to emergent matter. The platform represents an alternative route to making material building blocks, a route that could achieve more extreme emergent properties and materials that could even outperform nature.

Cornell Researchers

Funding Received

$1.2 Million spanning 5 years

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