Unraveling the Operational Mechanisms of Chemically Propelled Motors with Micropumps

Maria Jose Esplandiu, Kuan Zhang, Jordi Fraxedas, Borja Sepulveda, David Reguera

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearch

    13 Citations (Scopus)


    © 2018 American Chemical Society. ConspectusThe development of effective autonomous micro- and nanomotors relies on controlling fluid motion at interfaces. One of the main challenges in the engineering of such artificial machines is the quest for efficient mechanisms to power them without using external driving forces. In the past decade, there has been an important increase of man-made micro- and nanomotors fueled by self-generated physicochemical gradients. Impressive proofs of concept of multitasking machines have been reported demonstrating their capabilities for a plethora of applications. While the progress toward applications is promising, there are still open questions on fundamental physicochemical aspects behind the mechanical actuation, which require more experimental and theoretical efforts. These efforts are not merely academic but will open the door for an efficient and practical implementation of such promising devices.In this Account, we focus on chemically driven motors whose motion is the result of a complex interplay of chemical reactions and (electro)hydrodynamic phenomena. A reliable study of these processes is rather difficult with mobile objects like swimming motors. However, pumps, which are the immobilized motor counterparts, emerge as simple manufacturing and well-defined platforms for a better experimental probing of the mechanisms and key parameters controlling the actuation.Here we review some recent studies using a new methodology that has turned out to be very helpful to characterize micropump chemomechanics. The aim was to identify the redox role of the motor components, to map the chemical reaction, and to quantify the relevant electrokinetic parameters (e.g., electric field and fluid flow). This was achieved by monitoring the velocity of differently charged tracers and by fluorescence imaging of the chemical species involved in the chemical reaction, for example, proton gradients. We applied these techniques to different systems of interest. First, we probed bimetallic pumps as counterparts of the pioneering bimetallic swimmers. We corroborated that fluid motion was due to a self-generated electro-osmotic mechanism driven by the redox decomposition of H2O2. In addition, we analyzed by simulations the key parameters that yield an optimized operation. Moreover, we accomplished a better assessment of the importance of surface chemistry on the metal electrochemical response, highlighting its relevance in controlling the redox role of the metals and motion direction.Second, we focused on metallic and semiconductor micropumps to analyze light-controlled motion mechanisms through photoelectrochemical decomposition of fuels. These pumps were driven by visible light and could operate using just water as fuel. In these systems, we found a very interesting competition between two different mechanisms for fluid propulsion, namely, light-activated electro-osmosis and light-insensitive diffusio-osmosis, stemming from different chemical pathways in the fuel decomposition. In this case, surface roughness becomes a pivotal parameter to enhance or depress one mechanism over the other.These examples demonstrate that pumps are practical platforms to explore operating mechanisms and to quantify their performance. Additionally, they are suitable systems to test novel fuels or motor materials. This knowledge is extensible to swimmers providing not only fundamental understanding of their locomotion mechanisms but also useful clues for their design and optimization.
    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)1921-1930
    JournalAccounts of Chemical Research
    Publication statusPublished - 18 Sep 2018


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