Biomimetic ciliary propulsion

Biomimicry – the science of drawing inspiration from natural organisms and processes – has been a long standing fascination of mankind. Nature’s selection principles have often evolved very elegant solutions for problems that engineers find challenging to solve. Some of the most fascinating biologic processes take place at the microscale, and have been inaccessible to engineers to date. However, with the advent of micro and nanotechnology, we now have a new set of tools to better imitate biologic microsystems. In particular, this research looks into copying cilia driven propulsion mechanisms. Cilia are nature’s answer to locomotion in liquids at very small scales where fluids are typically in a laminar regime. In this regime, viscous forces are dominating, and fluid propulsion requires mechanisms that are very different from those we are familiar with in our everyday lives.

The KU Leuven has a long standing expertise in the fabrication of microsystems, and recently developed a new type of soft microactuator which is ideally suited for replicating the beating motion of cilia. Starting from existing biological observations and physical models, this project studies the complex interaction between neighboring cilia and the beating motion asymmetric characteristics, such as trajectory asymmetry and metachronal wave motion, that take on the biggest role in propelling fluids at low Reynolds number, enabling further developments for microfluidics applications such as Lab-on-a-chip and µTAS.