They create fish-shaped robots to absorb microplastics from the oceans

These robots will clean the oceans of microplastics.

Photo: Andyballard / Pixabay

Scientists have developed and created fish-like robots to swim and collect microplastics from the nooks and crannies of the oceans.

Microplastics, tiny plastic particles that can be harmful to marine animals when ingestedsettle to the bottom of waterways and are difficult to remove from the environment.

That is why Chinese scientists have developed a small self-propelled robot that can “swim” into hard-to-reach places in the oceans and clean them up.

Xinxing Zhang and his fellow researchers wanted to create a durable new material for the robot, since elastomers and hydrogels, commonly used to make soft robots, are easily damaged in marine environments.

A light-activated fish-shaped robot collects microplastics as it swims (Photo: Adapted from Nano Letters 2022).

Nacre, also known as ‘mother of pearl’, found on the inside of clam shells, has layers of calcium carbonate mineral and polymer compounds and a filling of mainly silk protein that makes them strong and flexible.

Using mother-of-pearl as a base, the research team linked cyclodextrin with sulfonated grapheme to create composite nanosheets that were then converted into polyurethane latex blends.

Layer by layer, the research team formed a fish-shaped robot 15 millimeters long and capable of swimming in confined spaces.

The robot is capable of moving 2.67 body lengths per second with the use of a near-infrared laser that causes the tail to shake when it is rapidly turned on and off, propelling it forward.

The robot can absorb polystyrene microplastics in the water and transport them to another place.

Meanwhile, the researchers showed that the material can heal itself after being damaged and thus maintains its ability to absorb microplastics continuously, adding that the robots could be used to monitor pollution levels in harsh marine environments.

The research team said it received funding from the Sichuan Natural Science Fund for Distinguished Young Scholars, the National Natural Science Foundation of China and the National Key Research and Development Program of China.

Research leader Xinxing Zhang said, “The proof-of-concept robot has been shown to emphasize its maximum swimming speed of 2.67 body lengths per second.”

“Its speed is comparable to that of plankton, which represents the superior performance of most artificial soft robots,” he added.

There are an estimated 24 trillion pieces of microplastic in the world’s oceans, according to a study from Kyushu University.

Plastic parts can be harmful to animals if ingested, especially once they settle to the bottom of our rivers, lakes and oceans.

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