World's Tiniest 3D Printed Boat for Scientists to Study How Bacteria 'Swim' Inside Human Body

·2-min read

Scientists have created a 3D boat that is nearly 1/3rd the width of your hair. The boat is 3D printed and created to follow microswimmers, or very tiny bacteria, to learn more about how they work.

The boat was created at Leiden University and the researchers have nicknamed it Benchy the tugboat. It was produced using a new technique and it can even swim behind a tiny particle.

The boat is around 30 micrometers (or about 0.001 inches) in length, from prow to stern. It can be viewed properly under an electron microscope. The research was led by physicists Rachel Doherty and Daniela. The original idea was to follow bacterial microswimmers and even though most of such research is usually carried on sphere-shaped particles, the new 3D printing allows for new possibilities, the team says.

This microboat, however, does not have a propeller. The design is a standard one used for testing the 3D printers. Researchers tested a new microscale 3D printer- Nanoscribe Photonic Professional printer- which successfully created the world’s smallest ship. They noticed it followed the microswimmers when immersed in droplets of water and observed under microscope.

It propels via chemical reaction. A small piece of platinum reacts with hydrogen peroxide in its environments and provides propulsion. Though it should be noted that previous attempts have been made at creating artificial microswimmers but all of them aimed at creating simple spherical shapes by chemical methods.

Here, they used a focused laser to guide the swimmer into the shape they want. According to the team, these 3D printed microswimmers are designed in a way that they can deliver target drugs inside the body or can diagnose a condition in the future.

The team’s nickname, 3D Benchy, is a shortened form of 3D Benchmark. It is named so because it is a test vessel and will later be deployed into full-scale experiments. While most 3D printing projects create ‘artworks’ or static products, Benchy is active- a fully functional microswimmer.

However, there may be modifications made to the tugboat design as it isn’t the most efficient. 3D printed spirals and helix shapes might be employed to allow self-propulsion in a corkscrew motion.