Researchers at MIT have developed a new technique for precisely fracturing 2D materials like graphene to create tiny cell-like robots.
Known as syncells (synthetic cells), the microscopic bots are formed by enveloping a polymer containing electronics between two layers of graphene. The MIT team found that by draping the brittle 2D graphene over the polymer, it would fracture in a uniform manner to create the round syncells. According to the researchers, it’s a brand new mass fabrication method – known as “autoperforation” – that works with any 2D material. The resulting microbots could have a range of uses, from monitoring the inside of a pipeline to detecting disease in the bloodstream.
“Imagine a tablecloth falling slowly down onto the surface of a circular table,” said MIT graduate student Albert Liu. “One can very easily visualise the developing circular strain toward the table edges, and that’s very much analogous to what happens when a flat sheet of graphene folds around these printed polymer pillars.”
According to the team, this is one of the only ways currently available to produce stand-alone integrated microelectronics on a large scale that can function as independent, free-floating devices. Depending on the nature of the electronics inside, the syncells could be provided with capabilities for movement, detection of various chemicals or other parameters, and memory storage.