Date of Award


Embargo Period


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Mechanical Engineering


Metin Sitti


Magnetic micro-robots are small robots under 1mm in size, made of magnetic materials, with relatively simple structures and functionalities. Such micro-robots can be actuated and controlled remotely by externally applied magnetic fields, and hence have the potential to access small and enclosed spaces. Most of the existing magnetic micro-robots can operate in wet environments. When the robots are actuated by the applied magnetic field to move inside a viscous liquid, they invoke flow motions around them inside the liquid. The induced flows are relatively local as the velocity of these flows decays rapidly with the distance from a moving robot, and the flow patterns are highly correlated with the motions of the micro-robots which are controllable by the applied magnetic field. Therefore, it is possible to generate local flow patterns that cannot be easily done using other microfluidic techniques. In this work we propose to use rotational motion of the magnetic micro-robots for local manipulation of flows. We employ electromagnetic techniques to successfully deliver actuation and motion control onto the micro-robots. Rotational magnetic field is applied to induce rotational motion of micro-robots both when they stay near a surface and are suspended in the liquid. Rotational flows are locally generated in the vicinity of micro-robots inside the viscous liquid. Implementation of three major applications using the flows generated by the rotating micro-robots are demonstrated in this work: 1) Two-dimensional (2D) non-contact manipulation of micro-objects. 2) Three-dimensional (3D) propulsion for the micro-robot to swim in a liquid. 3) Size-based sorting of micro-particles in microfluidic channels under continuous flow. The first two applications occur in otherwise quiescent liquid, while the third requires the presence of non-zero background flow. For the first application, we propose two methods to achieve precise positioning of the microrobots on a surface: 1) Using visual-feedback-control to adjust the rotation for one single microrobot. Micro-robot can be precisely positioned at any location on a surface using this method. 2) Using a specially prepared surface with magnetic micro-docks embedded in it, which act as local magnetic traps for multiple micro-robots to hold their positions and operate in parallel. Physical models are established for both the micro-robot and the micro-objects present in the induced rotational flow. The rotational flows induced by rotating micro-robots are studied with numerical simulations. Experimental demonstrations are first given at sub-millimeter scale to verify the proposed method. Micro-manipulation of polymer beads is performed with both positioncontrol methods. Automated micro-manipulation is also achieved using visual-feedback. Micromanipulation at micron-scale is then performed to demonstrate the scalability and versatility of the proposed method. Non-contact manipulation is achieved for various micro-objects, including biological samples, using a single spherical micro-robot. Inspired by flagellated microorganisms in nature, we explore the hydrodynamics of an elastic rod-like structure - the artificial flagellum, and verify by both simulation and experiments that rotation and deformation of such structure can result in a propulsive force on a micro-robot it is attached to. Optimization of flagellum geometry is achieved for a single flagellum. A swimming micro-robot design with multiple flexible flagella is proposed and fabricated via an inexpensive micro-fabrication process involving photolithography, micro-molding and manual assembly. Experiments are perform to characterize the propulsive force generation and the resulting swimming performance of the fabricated micro-robots. It is demonstrated that the swimming speed can be improved by increasing the number of attached flagella. For the size-based sorting application, we integrate the micro-robots into microfluidic channels by using the substrate embedded with magnetic micro-docks, which are capable of holding the robots under continuous flow inside the channels while the robots spin. Numerical analysis is carried out of the flows inside the microfluidic channel in the presence of rotating micro-robots, and a physical model is established and discussed for size-based lateral migration of spherical micro-objects inside the induced rotational flows. Experimental demonstrations are performed for using the induced rotational flows to divert the trajectories of micro-particles based on their sizes under continuous flow. In addition, we propose the method of using the two photon polymerization (TPP) technique to fabricate magnetic micro-robots with complex shapes. The method could also achieve fabrication of arrays of micro-robots for more sophisticated applications. However, experimental results prove that the TPP is insufficient to achieve magnetic micro-robots that meet our needs for size-based sorting application due to physical limitations of the materials. Despite that, it is potentially powerful and suitable for fabrication of micro-robots with complex structures at small scales.