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MEAM Seminar: “Microscale Robotic Wetware for Synthetic Biology”
July 23, 2019 at 10:30 AM - 12:00 PM
Small-scale robotic systems have emerged as promising tools to perform a wide-range of tasks in microbiology and medicine such as targeted delivery, cell manipulation, environmental monitoring, and microassembly. In order to perform these tasks, the robot must execute precise locomotion, take measurements from its environment, and use those measurements to make decisions. However, unlike their macroscale counterparts, microrobots typically lack intelligence on-board and are composed of simple microstructures which are driven using off-board hardware and software. Thus, small-scale actuators, sensors, computation, and communication modules are needed in order to develop intelligent, fully functional microrobots.
Concurrently with the field of microrobotics, synthetic biology has developed tools to design microorganisms to exhibit desired behaviors (e.g. sensing, communication, and decision-making). This talk will highlight a new paradigm for microrobot design and fabrication. Our approach uniquely hinges on biofabrication, or making things from living things, in order to create programmable biohybrid robots composed of both biological and synthetic materials. We design robot architectures that enable interfaces between biological cells and hardware giving rise to robots composed of living material, or robotic wetware. In particular, we will discuss our development of magnetically actuated soft micro bio robots (SMBRs) composed of natural hydrogels, which encapsulate and transport programmable living cells, while supporting cell growth and function on-board. By encapsulating cells, SMBRs can serve as individual cellular culture payloads or biofoundries in which cells, DNA vectors, and cellular byproducts are manufactured on-board and delivered to the environment. These results establish multi-functional robots that can be used as delivery vehicles for medical therapies, assistants for microbiological experiments, or building blocks for smart materials.
Elizabeth Beattie Hunter
Ph.D. Candidate, Department of Mechanical Engineering and Applied Mechanics, University of Pennsylvania
Advisor: Vijay Kumar