Scientists 3D print microscopic Star Trek spaceship that can move by itself

The platinum coating on the ship allows it to reach to a hydrogen peroxide solution and move on its own

Adam Smith
Wednesday 04 November 2020 16:15
Comments

Physicists have 3D-printed a microscopic version of the USS Voyager from Star Trek.

The tiny Intrepid-class spaceship is only five micrometers long, the equivalent to 0.005 millimetres.

It was made by researchers at Leiden University who have been printing a range of microswimmers, which are very small objects which can move through liquids.

The way that these microswimmers pass through liquid is via chemical reactions. The platinum coating on each of the objects react to a hydrogen peroxide solution and the resulting force propels them through the substance.

Some swimmers can be propelled by an external magnetic field, however this is not practical in many applications which require the particles to be autonomous themselves.

Usually, studies like those conducted by the researchers use spherical objects, but by experimenting with stranger designs different ways to move through liquid can be found.

“One such study showed that L-shaped particles exhibit circular trajectories”, the researchers state in a paper. They also “found unexpected motion patterns such as non-cylindrical helices”.

The model USS Voyager is not the only small object the researchers have printed. Along with helixes and lollipop-designs, 3D Benchy, a 30 micrometer-long boat (about a third of the thickness of a human hair) that is a standard test object for 3D printers, was also made.

“3D Benchy is a structure that has been designed to test macroscopic 3D printers because it has several challenging features, and it was natural to also try it at the micrometer scale” researcher Daniela Kraft told Gizmodo.

"In addition, making a swimming micrometer-sized boat is fun."

As a result of the research, scientists may be able to better understand biological microswimmers. These include sperm, bacteria, and white blood cells.

“Answering how symmetry and shape couple to motility and motion patterns, is of significant value in understanding synthetic and biological active systems alike, individually and collectively”, the scientists say.

“Ultimately, it will allow a greater control and design of the behaviour of synthetic microswimmers, useful for applications in therapeutic diagnostics and drug delivery.”

3D printing has been used in other applications, including NHS prosthetics , sculptures, and architecture.

In 2017, scientists also developed ink containing bacteria that could be used to create “living materials” that could help organ transplants and even tackle pollution by adjusting the same liquids used by 3D printers. 

Register for free to continue reading

Registration is a free and easy way to support our truly independent journalism

By registering, you will also enjoy limited access to Premium articles, exclusive newsletters, commenting, and virtual events with our leading journalists

Please enter a valid email
Please enter a valid email
Must be at least 6 characters, include an upper and lower case character and a number
Must be at least 6 characters, include an upper and lower case character and a number
Must be at least 6 characters, include an upper and lower case character and a number
Please enter your first name
Special characters aren’t allowed
Please enter a name between 1 and 40 characters
Please enter your last name
Special characters aren’t allowed
Please enter a name between 1 and 40 characters
You must be over 18 years old to register
You must be over 18 years old to register
Opt-out-policy
You can opt-out at any time by signing in to your account to manage your preferences. Each email has a link to unsubscribe.

Already have an account? sign in

By clicking ‘Register’ you confirm that your data has been entered correctly and you have read and agree to our Terms of use, Cookie policy and Privacy notice.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy policy and Terms of service apply.

Join our new commenting forum

Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies

Comments

Thank you for registering

Please refresh the page or navigate to another page on the site to be automatically logged in