Scientists are moving toward engineering living matter by manipulating the movement of microparticles


July 18, 2023

(Nanowerk News) A team of scientists have designed a system that replicates the movement of naturally occurring phenomena, such as hurricanes and algae, using a laser beam and microscopic rotor rotation.

The breakthrough, reported in the journal Nature Communications (“Hydrodynamic spin-orbit coupling in asynchronous optically driven micro-rotor”), uncovering new ways that living matter can be reproduced on a cellular scale. artistic impression of orbiting particles spun by rotating beams of light AI effect of orbiting particles spun by rotating light beams. (Image: Matan Yah Ben Zion)

“Living organisms are made of materials that actively pump energy through their molecules, which results in a series of movements on a larger cellular scale,” explained Matan Yah Ben Zion, a doctoral student in New York University’s Department of Physics at the time of the study. and one of the authors of the paper. “By engineering cellular-scale machines from the ground up, our work can offer new insights into the complexities of nature.”

Research centers on eddy flows, which occur in biological and meteorological systems, such as algae or hurricanes. In particular, particles move into orbital motion in a flow generated by their own rotation, resulting in a complex series of interactions.

To better understand these dynamics, the paper’s authors, which also include Alvin Modin, an NYU undergraduate at the time of the research and now a doctoral student at Johns Hopkins University, and Paul Chaikin, an NYU professor of physics, attempted to replicate them at their most basic level. To do so, they created a tiny micro-rotor—about 1/10 the width of a human hair—to propel the microparticles using a laser beam (Chaikin and his colleagues devised this process in previous work).

The researchers found that the rotating particles influence one another into orbital motion, with a striking similarity to the dynamics observed by other scientists in “dancing” algae—groupings of algae moving alongside one another.

In addition, the NYU team found that the spin of the particles reciprocates as the particles orbit.

“Synthetic particle spin counteracts in the same way as observed in algae — in contrast to previous work with artificial micro-rotor,” explained Ben Zion, now a researcher at Tel Aviv University. “So we can reproduce synthetically—and on the micron scale—the effects seen in living systems.”

“Collectively, these findings demonstrate that algae can reproduce in synthetic systems, better building our understanding of living matter,” he added.


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