Metachronal waves in magnetic micro-robotic paddles for artificial cilia

Matthew T. Bryan, Elizabeth L. Martin, Aleksandra Pac, Andrew D. Gilbert, Feodor Y. Ogrin

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Biological cilia generate fluid movement within viscosity-dominated environments using beating motions that break time-reversal symmetry. This creates a metachronal wave, which enhances flow efficiency. Artificially mimicking this behaviour could improve microfluidic point-of-care devices, since viscosity-dominated fluid dynamics impede fluid flow and mixing of reagents, limiting potential for multiplexing diagnostic tests. However, current biomimicry schemes require either variation in the hydrodynamic response across a cilia array or a complex magnetic anisotropy configuration to synchronise the actuation sequence with the driving field. Here, we show that simple modifications to the structural design introduce phase differences between individual actuators, leading to the spontaneous formation of metachronal waves. This generates flow speeds of up to 16 μm/s as far as 675 μm above the actuator plane. By introducing metachronal waves through lithographic structuring, large scale manufacture becomes feasible. Additionally, by demonstrating that metachronal waves emerge from non-uniformity in internal structural mechanics, we offer fresh insight into the mechanics of cilia coordination.
Original languageEnglish
Article number14
JournalCommunications Materials
Publication statusPublished - 5 Feb 2021


  • microfluidics
  • Magnetic properties and materials
  • Bioinspired materials
  • Fluid dynamics
  • Actuators
  • Design, synthesis and processing

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