Courtesy of Nature Materials

Microrobots and other miniature machines all have the same problem: Where do you plug them in? Even the best fuel cells and microscale batteries can't store much power for long periods. Now UCLA's Carlo Montemagno, a biomedical engineer, has shown that all you have to do to solve this power problem is to put a little muscle into it.1

A research team led by Montemagno has developed a unique way to grow bundles of muscle cells on silicon chips and attach them to fabricated devices such as tiny levers or switches. When the muscles contract, the devices move. No manufactured power source is needed; all that's required is nourishment for the muscles.

Typically, tissue cultured on silicon is micropatterned along a solid surface. "But a muscle cell has to be free to contract," explains UCLA team member Jianzhong Xi. "That's...

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