Designing mechano-responsive microcapsules that undergo self-propelled motion

German V. Kolmakov, Alexander Schaefer, Igor Aranson, Anna C. Balazs

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

21 Scopus citations


Biological cells are capable of sensing mechanical cues and responding to these signals by undergoing morphological changes and directed motion. A significant challenge is creating cell-like objects that can translate mechanical stimuli into analogous behavior. Herein, we use computational modeling to design a simple mechanosensitive "cell" that responds to mechanical deformation through a shape change that allows it to undergo self-sustained, directed movement. Our cellular object is formed from a nanoparticle-filled microcapsule that is located on an adhesive substrate in solution. In response to a locally applied force, the deformed capsule releases nanoparticles that bind to the surface and dynamically create adhesion gradients. Due to the self-generated gradients, the capsule moves autonomously from regions of less adhesion to greater adhesion. During the capsule's motion, new nanoparticles are released that both sustain and propagate the adhesion gradients and thus, the capsule sustains autonomous movement along its path (until it is depleted of nanoparticles). The self-sustained motion occurs only if the permeability of the capsule's shell depends on mechanical deformation. We isolate critical parameters that control the dynamic behavior of this mechano-responsive capsule. Our findings can facilitate the fabrication of devices that are powered by the autonomous movement of microscopic synthetic cells. Additionally, the capsules could serve as sensors for mechanical strain, indicating the presence of strain fields by their spontaneous motion and release of nanoparticles; the latter behavior could be exploited in the fabrication of self-healing materials.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)180-190
Number of pages11
JournalSoft Matter
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 7 2012

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • General Chemistry
  • Condensed Matter Physics


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