By Alessandro Pellegrino
Taking inspiration from wind-dispersed seeds, researchers led by John Rogers have designed flying structures that are microscopic in size. Using simulations and the wind tunnel, the researchers studied how the aerodynamics of these flying objects changed as the diameter, structure, and type of wings were adjusted.
For the most part, microchips with wings are the size of a grain of sand and have no motor, but they fly on the wind like gliders and spin like helicopters. The aerodynamics of these structures have been designed to ensure that they descend in a controlled manner even from high heights. This also stabilizes the flight, ensuring dispersion over a wide area and increasing the interaction time with the air, making it ideal for monitoring air pollution.
Flying microchips are composed of two parts: the wings and the functional electronic components. In the experiments conducted so far, the researchers have coupled sensor microchips to monitor the acidity of the air or exposure to the Sun at different wavelengths. The next goal is to make sure that these tiny machines can gradually dissolve in water over time, once they are no longer needed.