A magnetic fluid robot can be made smaller, thinner, or split into smaller particles using special magnets, which can be useful for delivering drugs into the body, reports New Scientist.

A liquid robot created from droplets of magnetic fluid that can disintegrate and rebuild itself later if it encounters obstacles or narrow passages. In the future, it can be used for targeted drug delivery. Xinjian Fan at Soochow University in Taiwan and his colleagues used ferrofluid droplets, namely magnetic iron oxide nanoparticles suspended in oil. They were used to create a liquid robot about a centimeter in size. A set of controllable magnets can direct the robot to move or change shape by influencing the nanoparticles.

To make the robot move through the narrow channel, the researchers used their magnets to squeeze it into a thin, elongated shape and magnetic fields to force it to split into a group of a smaller, millimeter- or micrometer-sized droplets. Another adjustment of the magnetic field directed the parts to merge into one.

Pietro Valdastri of the University of Leeds in the UK says this capability could be a game-changer, as a patient could ingest the drug-carrying robot, which could then split up inside, possibly in the gastrointestinal tract, so that each tiny robotic drop can deliver the medicine to the right place in the body. Bradley Nelson of the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich believes another application could be to remove blood clots in the brain that cause strokes. The scientist also adds that it would be difficult to create a strong enough magnetic field to precisely move the robot inside the brain.

The use of the new robot in medicine is quite likely but most likely in the distant future, says Hamidreza Marvi of Arizona State University. He assures that the development could find faster application in laboratory devices, where chemical processes, such as virus testing, are performed in a very small space. In these situations, ferrofluidic robots could deliver the chemicals needed for the reactions.