Within the areas of cell biology, biomedicine and minimal invasive surgery, there is a need for soft, flexible and dextrous biocompatible manipulators for handling biological objects, such as single cells and tissues. Present day technologies are based on simple suction using micropipettes for grasping objects. The micropipettes lack the possibility of accurate force control, nor are they soft and compliant and may thus cause damage to the cells or tissue. Other micromanipulators use conventional electric motors however the further miniaturization of electrical motors and their associated gear boxes and/or push/pull wires has reached its limits. Therefore there is an urgent need for new technologies for micromanipulation of soft biological matter. We are developing soft, flexible micromanipulators such as micro- tweezers for the handling and manipulation of biological species including cells and surgical tools for minimal invasive surgery. Our aim is to produce tools with minimal dimensions of 100 μm to 1 mm in size, which is 1-2 orders of magnitude smaller than existing technology. We present newly developed patterning and microfabrication methods for polymer microactuators as well as the latest results to integrate these microactuators into easy to use manipulation tools. The outcomes of this study contribute to the realisation of low-foot print devices articulated with electroactive polymer actuators for which the physical interface with the power source has been a significant challenge limiting their application. Here, we present a new bottom-up microfabrication process. We show for the first time that such a bottom-up fabricated actuator performs a movement in air. This is a significant step towards widening the application areas of the soft microactuators.
ARC/CE0561616, ARC/DP0878931, ARC/CE140100012