Artificial Intelligence: Collective Behaviors of Synthetic Micromachines

Open Access
Duan, Wentao
Graduate Program:
Doctor of Philosophy
Document Type:
Date of Defense:
November 21, 2014
Committee Members:
  • Ayusman Sen, Dissertation Advisor
  • Ayusman Sen, Committee Chair
  • Thomas E Mallouk, Committee Member
  • John V Badding, Committee Member
  • Darrell Velegol, Committee Member
  • Scott Trent Feldman, Special Member
  • Micromotors
  • Micropumps
  • Collective Behaviors
  • COMSOL Simulation
  • Interaction
  • Self-assembly
  • Chemical Sensing
Synthetic nano- and micromotors function through the conversion of chemical free energy or forms of energy into mechanical motion. Ever since the first reports, such motors have been the subject of growing interest. In addition to motility in response to gradients, these motors interact with each other, resulting in emergent collective behavior like schooling, exclusion, and predator-prey. However, most of these systems only exhibit a single type of collective behavior in response to a certain stimuli. The research projects in the disseratation aim at designing synthetic micromotors that can exhibit transition between various collective behaviors in response to different stimuli, as well as quantitative understanding on the pairwise interaction and propulsion mechanism of such motors. Chapter 1 offers an overview on development of synthetic micromachines. Interactions and collective behaviors of micromotors are also summarized and included. Chapter 2 presents a silver orthophosphate microparticle system that exhibits collective behaviors. Transition between two collective patterns, clustering and dispersion, can be triggered by shift in chemical equilibrium upon the addition or removal of ammonia, in response to UV light, or under two orthogonal stimuli (UV and acoustic field) and powering mechanisms. The transitions can be explained by the self-diffusiophoresis mechanism resulting from either ionic or neutral solute gradients. Potential applications of the reported system in logic gates, microscale pumping, and hierarchical assembly have been demonstrated. Chapter 3 introduces a self-powered oscillatory micromotor system in which active col-loids form clusters whose size changes periodically. The system consists of an aqueous suspension of silver orthophosphate particles under UV radiation, in the presence of a mixture of glucose and hydrogen peroxide. The colloid particles first attract with each other to form clusters. After a lag time of around 5min, chemical oscillation initiates, and triggers periodic change of the associated self-diffusiophoretic effects as well as interactions between particles. As a result, dispersion and clustering of particles take place alternatively, and sizes of colloidal clusters vary periodically together with local colloid concentration, formulating a namely “colloidal clock”. In the system, oscillation can propagate from individual clusters to nearby clusters, and there can exist more than one oscillation frequencies in one system, possibly due to different local particle concentrations or cluster size. Chapter 4 quantitatively investigates the influence of pairwise interaction between motors on their diffusional behaviors by analyzing motion of light-powered silver chloride particles. Powered by UV light, nano/micrometer-sized silver chloride (AgCl) particles exhibit autonomous movement and form “schools” in aqueous solution. Motion of these AgCl particles are tracked and analyzed. AgCl particles exhibit ballistic motion at short time intervals that transition to enhanced diffusive motion as the time interval is increased. The onset of this transition was found to occur more quickly for particles with more neighbors. If the active particles became “trapped” in a formed “school”, the diffusive behavior further changes to subdiffusion. The correlation between these transitions and the number of neighboring particles was verified by simulation, and confirms the influence of pairwise interaction between motors. Chapter 5 aims at quantitative understanding on the self-diffusiophoresis propulsion mechanism through numerical simulation with COMSOL Multiphysics. A self-powered micropump based on ion-exchange is chosen as the experimental model system. Weakly acidic-form ion-exchange resin can function as self-powered micropumps in aqueous solution, manipulating fluid flow at vicinity and transporting inert tracer colloids. Pumping direction in the system can be dynamically altered in response to pH change: lower pH leads to outward pumping, and higer pH results in inward particle motion. A COMSOL Multiphysics model is built with different boundary conditions and parameters, in accordance with the experimental system. The reasonable agreement between experimental and simulation results confirms self-diffusiophoresis as the powering mechanism. By varing parameters, the model also suggests possible routes to tune the performance of the micropump. COMSOL simulations on micropumps that are based on density-driven mechanism are also included.