Directed propulsion of spherical particles along three dimensional helical trajectories

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Active colloids are a class of microparticles that 'swim' through fluids by breaking the symmetry of the force distribution on their surfaces. Our ability to direct these particles along complex trajectories in three-dimensional (3D) space requires strategies to encode the desired forces and torques at the single particle level. Here, we show that spherical colloids with metal patches of low symmetry self-propel along non-linear 3D trajectories when powered remotely by an alternating current (AC) electric field. In particular, particles with triangular patches of approximate mirror symmetry trace helical paths along the axis of the field. We demonstrate that the speed and shape of the particle's trajectory can be tuned by the applied field strength and the patch geometry. We show that helical motion can enhance particle transport through porous materials with implications for the design of microrobots that can navigate complex environments.

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Nature communications

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