Ferrofluidic Manipulator: Automatic manipulation of nonmagnetic microparticles at the air-ferrofluid interface

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Manipulation of small-scale matter is a fundamental topic in micro and nanorobotics. Numerous magnetic robotic systems have been developed for the manipulation of microparticles in an ambient environment, liquid, as well as on the air-liquid interface. These systems move intrinsically magnetic or magnetically tagged objects by inducing a magnetic torque or force. However, most of the materials found in nature are nonmagnetic. Here, we report a ferrofluidic manipulator for automatic 2-D manipulation of nonmagnetic objects floating on top of a ferrofluid. The manipulation system employs 8-cm-scale solenoids, which can move nonmagnetic particles by deforming the air-ferrofluid interface. Using linear programming, we can control the motion of the nonmagnetic particles with a predefined trajectory of a line, square, and circle with a precision of 25.1 ± 19.5, 34.4 ± 28.4, and 33.4 ± 26.6 μm, respectively. The ferrofluidic manipulator is versatile with the materials and the shapes of the objects under manipulation. We have successfully manipulated particles made of polyethylene, polystyrene, a silicon chip, and poppy and sesame seeds. This article shows a promising venue for the manipulation of living and nonliving matter at the air-liquid interface.

Original languageEnglish
Article number9437980
Pages (from-to)1932-1940
Number of pages9
JournalIEEE/ASME Transactions on Mechatronics
Issue number4
Early online date2021
Publication statusPublished - Aug 2021
MoE publication typeA1 Journal article-refereed


  • Ferrofluid
  • Magnetic fields
  • Magnetic liquids
  • Manipulators
  • micro-electro-mechanical systems
  • smart material-based devices
  • soft robotics systems
  • Solenoids
  • Strain
  • Trajectory


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