A team of physicists at a university in the Netherlands have 3D-printed a microscopic version of the USS Voyager, an Intrepid-class starship from Star Trek.
The miniature Voyager, which measures 15 micrometers (0.015 millimeters) long, is part of a project researchers at Leiden University conducted to understand how shape affects the motion and interactions of microswimmers.
Microswimmers are small particles that can move through liquid on their own by interacting with their environment through chemical reactions. The platinum coating on the microswimmers reacts to a hydrogen peroxide solution they are placed in, and that propels them through the liquid.
“By studying synthetic microswimmers, we would like to understand biological microswimmers,” Samia Ouhajji, one of the study’s authors, told CNN. “This understanding could aid in developing new drug delivery vehicles; for example, microrobots that swim autonomously and deliver drugs at the desired location in the human body.”
By using a 3D printer, the scientists have discovered that they can print any shape of microswimmers, including boats and starships. That helps them single out the effect each shape has on the motion of swimming particles.
While most people wouldn’t understand what the USS Voyager has to do with science, Jonas Hoecht, one of the study’s co-authors, had his own reason to replicate the ship.
“In the last week of his project, I promised him we could print any shape he liked,” Ouhajji said. “As a major Star Trek fan, he choose the USS Voyager. Additionally, it was also to show that the type of shapes we can print is almost limitless.”
In their project, the physicists also printed shapes like boats, trimers and helices, with each object’s shape affecting their swimming behaviors.
Along with understanding how microswimmers can be used to clean wastewater or deliver drugs to the body, the experiment will help scientists learn more about biological swimmers, like sperm and bacteria, and how they travel through the body.