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ABSTRACT: Micro and nanoscale mobile agents capable of self-propulsion in low Reynolds number fluids would have a great technological impact in many fields. Few known mechanisms are able to propel such devices. Here we describe helical nanobelt (HNB) swimmers actuated by an electric field-generated electro-osmotic force. These HNB swimmers are designed with a head and a tail, similar to natural micro-organisms such as bacteria and their flagella. We show that these electro-osmotic propulsion of HNB swimmers achieve speeds (24 body lengths per second), force (1.3 nN), and pressure (375.5 Pa) above those demonstrated by other artificial swimmers based on physical energy conversion. Although nature’s bacteria are still more dynamic, this paper reports that the demonstrated electro-osmotic HNB microswimmers made a big step toward getting closer to their performances. Moreover, an unusual swimming behavior with discontinuous pumping propulsion, similar to jellyfish, was revealed at or above the speculated marginal limit of linear propulsion. These electro-osmosis propelled HNB swimmers might be used as biomedical carriers, wireless manipulators, and as local probes for rheological measurements.
The International Journal of Robotics Research 01/2011; 30:806-819. · 2.86 Impact Factor