Tiny robots to the rescue: a new solution for microplastic pollution

These microrobots are designed to be guided by rotating magnetic fields, which allow them to move and capture microplastics and bacteria

Researchers from the Central European Technology Institute and the University of Brno, led by Martina Ussia, have unveiled an innovative approach to tackle the issue of microplastics in water: swarms of spherical microrobots.

These microrobots, as featured in the journal Acs Nano, are minuscule, with a diameter of just 2.8 micrometers—smaller than a red blood cell. They are designed to be maneuvered by rotating magnetic fields, allowing them to move and capture microplastics and harmful bacteria on their surface.

A New Solution for Microplastic Pollution

@Acs Nano

Microplastics pose a serious environmental threat, being tiny fragments of plastic that can be easily ingested by marine animals, thereby entering the food chain and potentially reaching humans. Beyond the direct risk posed by microplastics, they can also serve as anchor points for bacteria and harmful microorganisms, further increasing health risks.

Highly effective cleanup in record time

A New Solution for Microplastic Pollution

To test the effectiveness of these microrobots, the researchers released them into tanks of water contaminated with 1-micrometer diameter microplastic beads and Pseudomonas aeruginosa bacteria, known to cause pneumonia.

When the tank was subjected to a rotating magnetic field, activated in 10-second pulses, the microrobots cleaned up 80% of the contaminants in just 30 minutes. This impressive result demonstrates the microrobots’ ability to efficiently collect microplastics and bacteria from water.

After collection, the microrobots can be recovered and decontaminated using ultrasound to separate the microplastics, and then sterilized with ultraviolet radiation. This process allows for the reuse of the microrobots in further cleaning cycles, albeit with slightly reduced effectiveness.

Although the system is still complex, it represents a very promising solution for decontaminating water from plastics and bacteria. This innovative technology offers real hope for addressing one of the most pressing environmental issues of our time, with the potential to significantly improve water quality and reduce health risks associated with microplastics and dangerous bacteria.

Source: ACS Nano

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