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posted by janrinok on Thursday June 23, @02:41PM   Printer-friendly
from the little-swimmers dept.

Scientists unveil bionic robo-fish to remove microplastics from seas:

Scientists have designed a tiny robot-fish that is programmed to remove microplastics from seas and oceans by swimming around and adsorbing them on its soft, flexible, self-healing body.

Microplastics are the billions of tiny plastic particles which fragment from the bigger plastic things used every day such as water bottles, car tyres and synthetic T-shirts. They are one of the 21st century's biggest environmental problems because once they are dispersed into the environment through the breakdown of larger plastics they are very hard to get rid of, making their way into drinking water, produce, and food, harming the environment and animal and human health.

[...] The robo-fish is just 13mm long, and thanks to a light laser system in its tail, swims and flaps around at almost 30mm a second, similar to the speed at which plankton drift around in moving water.

The researchers created the robot from materials inspired by elements that thrive in the sea: mother-of-pearl, also known as nacre, which is the interior covering of clam shells. The team created a material similar to nacre by layering various microscopic sheets of molecules according to nacre's specific chemical gradient.

This made them a robo-fish that is stretchy, flexible to twist, and even able to pull up to 5kg in weight, according to the study. Most importantly, the bionic fish can adsorb nearby free-floating bits of microplastics because the organic dyes, antibiotics, and heavy metals in the microplastics have strong chemical bonds and electrostatic interactions with the fish's materials. That makes them cling on to its surface, so the fish can collect and remove microplastics from the water. "After the robot collects the microplastics in the water, the researchers can further analyse the composition and physiological toxicity of the microplastics," said Wang.

Plus, the newly created material also seems to have regenerative abilities, said Wang, who specialises in the development of self-healing materials. So the robot fish can heal itself to 89% of its ability and continue adsorbing even in the case it experiences some damage or cutting – which could happen often if it goes hunting for pollutants in rough waters.

[...] This is low-hanging fruit for the field of nanotechnology, Demokritou said, and as research into materials gets better so will the multi-pronged approach of substituting plastic in our daily lives and filtering out its microplastic residue from the environment.

"But there's a big distinction between an invention and an innovation," Demokritou said. "Invention is something that nobody has thought about yet. Right? But innovation is something that will change people's lives, because it makes it to commercialisation, and it can be scaled."

Journal Reference:
Yuyan Wang, Gehong Su, Jin Li, Quanquan Guo, Yinggang Miao, and Xinxing Zhang, Robust, Healable, Self-Locomotive Integrated Robots Enabled by Noncovalent Assembled Gradient Nanostructure, Nano Lett. 2022, DOI:https://doi.org/10.1021/acs.nanolett.2c01375


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  • (Score: 1, Interesting) by Anonymous Coward on Thursday June 23, @06:37PM

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday June 23, @06:37PM (#1255641)

    For catching the larger pieces going down a river, a robo-fish might even be useful. But as to the whole focusing on (micro)plastics, it is a blatant scam founded on cynical disinformation, plain and simple, from top to bottom.
    Plastics DO undergo microbial degradation, and nature IS chock full of tiny particles of slow-degrading polymers for hundreds millions of years already, to boot: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sporopollenin [wikipedia.org]

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