Breaking Polymer Chains with Self-Propelled Light-Controlled Navigable Hematite Microrobots

Mario Urso, Martina Ussia, Martin Pumera

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

37 Citations (Scopus)


The increasing use of polymers has led to an uncontrollable accumulation of polymer waste in the environment, evidencing the urgent need for effective and definitive strategies to degrade them. Here, self-propelled light-powered magnetic field-navigable hematite/metal Janus microrobots that can actively move, capture, and degrade polymers are presented. Janus microrobots are fabricated by asymmetrically depositing different metals on hematite microspheres prepared by low-cost and large-scale chemical synthesis. All microrobots exhibit fuel-free motion capability, with light-controlled on/off switching of motion and magnetic field-controlled directionality. Higher speeds are observed for bimetallic coatings with respect to single metals. This is due to their larger mixed potential difference with hematite as indicated by Tafel measurements. As a model for polymers, the total degradation of high molecular weight polyethylene glycol is demonstrated by matrix-assisted laser desorption/ionization mass spectrometry. This result is attributed to the active motion of microrobots, enhanced electrostatic capture of polymer chains, improved charge separation at the hematite/metal interface, and catalyzed photo-Fenton reaction. This work opens the route toward the degradation of polymers and plastics in water using light.

Original languageEnglish
Article number2101510
JournalAdvanced Functional Materials
Issue number28
Publication statusPublished - 2021 Jul 9

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
M.P. was supported by Ministry of Education, Youth and Sports (Czech Republic) grant LL2002 under ERC CZ program. CzechNanoLab project LM2018110 funded by MEYS CR is gratefully acknowledged for the financial support of the measurements/sample fabrication at CEITEC Nano Research Infrastructure. CIISB, Instruct‐CZ Centre of Instruct‐ERIC EU consortium, funded by MEYS CR infrastructure project LM2018127, is gratefully acknowledged for the financial support of the measurements at the CEITEC Proteomics Core Facility.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2021 Wiley-VCH GmbH.

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Chemistry(all)
  • Materials Science(all)
  • Condensed Matter Physics


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