K-State faculty member receives NSF EAGER award for study of flow physics in microswimmers
Tuesday, July 25, 2023
MANHATTAN — Mingjun Wei, associate professor in the Carl R. Ice College of Engineering at Kansas State University, has received an early-concept grant for exploratory research, or EAGER, award from the National Science Foundation for his research exploring Purcell-like locomotion for microswimmers.
Microswimmers are normally referred to as natural or manmade objects at small scales, ranging from micrometers to centimeters, with the ability to move in a fluid environment. One potential application of microswimmers and microrobots is minimally invasive medicine along the human circulatory, central nervous and urinary systems.
Wei, who runs the Computational Science for Fluids and Acoustics Lab at K-State, will serve as the principal investigator on the one-year, $180,000 project, "EAGER: Numerical and Experimental Study of Purcell-Like Locomotion for Microswimmers," alongside co-principal investigator Shih-Kang Fan, professor of mechanical and nuclear engineering. Wei's group will focus on the computational and theoretical portion of the study, while Fan's team will work on the experimental side of the research.
The study seeks to broaden the understanding of flow physics in microswimmers and experimentally demonstrate a new approach to fabricate and control untethered microswimmers for the study of their locomotion and flow dynamics.
"Most previous works on the flow and locomotion of microswimmers were based on the assumptions of Stokes flow, which neglects the nonlinear and inertial contributions," Wei said. "Under a more strict examination, flow conditions of many microswimmers do not satisfy the criterion to neglect those contributions. There is an urgent need to investigate those effects in this flow regime to understand and further develop microswimmers in a rigorous manner."
Experimental demonstrations of untethered Purcell swimmers and associated flow dynamics have previously been scarce due to the challenge of implementing individually-driven hinges in a noninvasive manner with existing fabrication methods for microscale.
EAGER awards support exploratory work in its early stages on untested but potentially transformative research ideas or approaches. They are often considered to be high-risk, high-reward funding opportunities.
Wei is the recipient of the Harold O. and Jane C. Massey Neff professorship in mechanical engineering and associate professor in the Alan Levin Department of Mechanical and Nuclear Engineering at K-State.