Ferropaper: low-cost option for small motors, robots

A ferropaper developed at Birck Nanotechnology Center could lead to a low-cost way of making small stereo speakers, miniature robots or motors for a variety of potential applications, including tweezers to manipulate cells and flexible fingers for minimally invasive surgery.

Babak ZiaieBabak Ziaie, professor of electrical and computer engineering and biomedical engineering, has developed a technique to make the magnetic material by impregnating ordinary paper — even newsprint — with a mixture of mineral oil and magnetic nanoparticles of iron oxide. The nanoparticle-laden paper can then be moved using a magnetic field.

The researchers fashioned the material into a small cantilever, a structure resembling a diving board that can be moved or caused to vibrate by applying a magnetic field.

“Cantilever actuators are very common, but usually they are made from silicon, which is expensive and requires special cleanroom facilities to manufacture,” Ziaie says. “So using the ferropaper could be a very inexpensive, simple alternative. This is like 100 times cheaper than the silicon devices now available.”

Because the technique is inexpensive and doesn’t require specialized laboratory facilities, it could be used in community colleges and high schools to teach about micro robots and other engineering and scientific principles, according to Ziaie.