A self-propelled biohybrid swimmer at low Reynolds number

Brian J. Williams, Sandeep V. Anand, Jagannathan Rajagopalan, M. Taher A. Saif

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

259 Scopus citations


Many microorganisms, including spermatozoa and forms of bacteria, oscillate or twist a hairlike flagella to swim. At this small scale, where locomotion is challenged by large viscous drag, organisms must generate time-irreversible deformations of their flagella to produce thrust. To date, there is no demonstration of a self propelled, synthetic flagellar swimmer operating at low Reynolds number. Here we report a microscale, biohybrid swimmer enabled by a unique fabrication process and a supporting slender-body hydrodynamics model. The swimmer consists of a polydimethylsiloxane filament with a short, rigid head and a long, slender tail on which cardiomyocytes are selectively cultured. The cardiomyocytes contract and deform the filament to propel the swimmer at 5-10 μms-1, consistent with model predictions. We then demonstrate a two-tailed swimmer swimming at 81 μms-1. This small-scale, elementary biohybrid swimmer can serve as a platform for more complex biological machines.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number3081
JournalNature communications
StatePublished - Jan 17 2014

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Chemistry(all)
  • Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology(all)
  • Physics and Astronomy(all)


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