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Issue 1, 2012
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Designing mechano-responsive microcapsules that undergo self-propelled motion

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Biological cells are capable of sensing mechanical cues and responding to these signals by undergoing morphological changes and directed motion. A significant challenge is creating cell-like objects that can translate mechanical stimuli into analogous behavior. Herein, we use computational modeling to design a simple mechanosensitive “cell” that responds to mechanical deformation through a shape change that allows it to undergo self-sustained, directed movement. Our cellular object is formed from a nanoparticle-filled microcapsule that is located on an adhesive substrate in solution. In response to a locally applied force, the deformed capsule releases nanoparticles that bind to the surface and dynamically create adhesion gradients. Due to the self-generated gradients, the capsule moves autonomously from regions of less adhesion to greater adhesion. During the capsule's motion, new nanoparticles are released that both sustain and propagate the adhesion gradients and thus, the capsule sustains autonomous movement along its path (until it is depleted of nanoparticles). The self-sustained motion occurs only if the permeability of the capsule's shell depends on mechanical deformation. We isolate critical parameters that control the dynamic behavior of this mechano-responsive capsule. Our findings can facilitate the fabrication of devices that are powered by the autonomous movement of microscopic synthetic cells. Additionally, the capsules could serve as sensors for mechanical strain, indicating the presence of strain fields by their spontaneous motion and release of nanoparticles; the latter behavior could be exploited in the fabrication of self-healing materials.

Graphical abstract: Designing mechano-responsive microcapsules that undergo self-propelled motion

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Publication details

The article was received on 24 Jul 2011, accepted on 10 Nov 2011 and first published on 18 Nov 2011

Article type: Paper
DOI: 10.1039/C1SM06415K
Citation: Soft Matter, 2012,8, 180-190
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    Designing mechano-responsive microcapsules that undergo self-propelled motion

    G. V. Kolmakov, A. Schaefer, I. Aranson and A. C. Balazs, Soft Matter, 2012, 8, 180
    DOI: 10.1039/C1SM06415K

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