What microrobots have in common with soap

You need soap to remove dirt from your skin. The surfactant molecules it contains squeeze their way into the surface area between the dirt and the skin and help to dissolve the dirt in water. Researchers at FAU and Heinrich-Heine-Universität Düsseldorf (HHU) have observed the same phenomenon with rotating microrobots. Microrobots rotating in a clockwise direction separate from those rotating in an anticlockwise direction to form two cohesive groups clearly separated from each other, just like water and oil. By linking the microrobots to make chains, researchers were able to observe various effects: the chains are capable of mixing the groups and acting like surfactants to create new structures, the same as what happens with soap and soap bubbles.

3D-printed microrobots are driven to rotate on a vibrating table. The angle of the legs determines the rotation direction. Below, two oppositely-rotating robots are chained together.
If the chain consists of oppositely rotating robots, then the chain spontaneously closes; the start and end interlock irreversibly. We call this structure a `rotelle’.

Read about this work here:

Christian Scholz, Anton Ldov, Thorsten Pöschel, Michael Engel, Hartmut Löwen
Surfactants and Rotelles in Active Chiral Fluids
Science Advances 7, abf8998 (2021)
Highlighted in: FAU Research