Robot Patrol

“Life is plastic, it’s fantastic!” — NOT!! 

This is Sandra Tsing Loh with the Loh Down on Science.

From the Alps to the deepest ocean, plastics are everywhere! Microplastics are pieces smaller than a pencil eraser. They take decades to break down naturally. Can robots help?

Enter Seyyed Mohsen Beladi-Mousavi and colleagues from the University of Chemistry and Technology in Prague. They’ve created MICROrobots to break down MICROplastics. 

These microscopic, star-shaped robots are coated with magnetic iron-oxide. This helps them glob onto plastics. Then, they break the larger pieces down to basic chemicals using sunlight, water, and hydrogen peroxide. 

The researchers tested the robots on four distinct plastics with varying chemical structures. They determined the breakdown of each plastic by measuring changes in weight. 

Results? These robots decomposed ALL four plastics! After seven days, there was up to THREE percent weight loss! With that math, plastic chunks could be broken down to their base chemicals in under two years! 

The researchers think this new technology could help clean our oceans and drinking water. 

Tiny robot heroes to the rescue – now THAT’s a Fantastic Voyage! 

Reference: Beladi-Mousavi, S. M., Hermanová, S., Ying, Y., Plutnar, J., & Pumera, M. A Maze in Plastic Wastes: Autonomous Motile Photocatalytic Microrobots against Microplastics. ACS Applied Materials & Interfaces. (2021).