Questions for ‘New robot can pick up a single drop of liquid’

a macro photo of a perfectly clear drop of water on a purple flower petal. The out-of-focus flower fills the background.

Picking up a single liquid droplet, like the one seen on this flower petal, is challenging — especially for a robot. But a new robotic device can nab a drop of any liquid and put it somewhere else without dirtying (or infecting) human hands.

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To accompany New robot can pick up a single drop of liquid’  


Before Reading:

  1. Draw two drinking glasses on a clean piece of paper, one containing water and one empty. Then design and draw a robot that can transfer water from one glass to the other. List materials (such as metal, paper, wax, etc.) that you would need to build this robot. Then find a partner and share your designs. Work together to write short captions for both robots explaining how each would work. Feel free to make adjustments to your design at any stage.
  2. If you pour rubbing alcohol into a glass of water, the alcohol will appear to vanish. It’s still there, of course. The alcohol has dissolved into the water. But if you pour vegetable oil into water, the oil will not dissolve. Instead, it will form a separate layer atop the water. One of these substances — alcohol or oil — is classified as “hydrophilic” and the other as “hydrophobic.” Figure out which is which using the following clues. Hydro means water. Philic means attracting. Phobic means repellent. Briefly explain your reasoning. (Even if you already know these terms and the correct answers, answer this question by explaining how these clues could lead you to the right answers.)

During Reading:

  1. How might this new robotic device prove helpful to scientists working on infectious diseases?
  2. What two fields of engineering were combined to create the new device?
  3. What does it mean for a material to be hydrophobic? 
  4. What does omni mean? How do super-omniphobic materials differ from hydrophobic materials?
  5. What is the role of a robot’s actuator? In this new device, from what is the actuator made? 
  6. In what year did the team complete its new design? What worldwide event led to new potential applications for the device?

After Reading:

  1. Explain how “soft robots” differ from traditional robots. Then refer to the robot you designed in the Before Reading section above. Would your design be considered a soft robot or a traditional robot? Identify one similarity between the robot described in this story and the robot you designed. Finally, come up with one difference.
  2. Consider the advantages of soft robots over traditional robots. Write down one characteristic or ability that soft robots might have that traditional robots generally would not. Then use your answer to find a job that a soft robot could do better than a traditional robot. Explain your answer.