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Nature as a model in the design of "smart" particles


Giovanni Volpe, associate professor of physics at the University of Gothenburg, has received grants to design artificial "organisms" that will be able to perform tasks in groups. The Active Matter Goes Smart project has been awarded SEK 37 million by the Knut and Alice Wallenberg Foundation.

Giovanni Volpe and his research colleagues draw inspiration from nature in order to be able to take important steps towards designing artificial "smart" particles.

The idea is that the smart particles should be able to move freely in an environment and at the same time be able to analyze and explore it, for example, to be able to sense its temperature or chemical composition.

Nature is an example, such as shoal of fish or small microscopic organisms such as plankton and bacteria. The latter are important for the ecosystems of the seas and lakes and in addition absorb large amounts of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.

Portrait picture Giovanni Volpe, smiling– Like fish, they have a fascinating behavior. It gives us inspiration to design artificial "organisms" that can perform tasks in groups. For example, robots that can collaborate or microscopic particles that can break down oil spills or deliver a drug molecule to just the right place in the body, says Giovanni Volpe.

The goal is that artificial smart particles should be able to navigate in complex environments, for example the human body. They should be able to work with each other to create advanced flock behaviors such as in fish, birds and plankton.

– Our results will not only provide us with a deeper understanding for evolution of advanced flock behaviors in nature, but also take us a bit further on the road towards exploiting the potential and inspiration that Nature can give us to deal with some of the major challenges that society is currently facing, says Giovanni Volpe.

The Knut and Alice Wallenberg Foundation has awarded a total of SEK 640 million to 20 excellent basic research projects in medicine, science and technology, which are assessed as having the opportunity to lead to future scientific breakthroughs.

Giovanni Volpe has also developed a method that simplifies and improves the use of optical tweezers. The 2018 Nobel Prize in physics drew attention to the optical tweezers.

Giovanni Volpe, Department of Physics at the University of Gothenburg, mobile: +46 70 996 61 81, e-mail:

Photo: Portrait picture Giovanni Volpe, photo Malin Arnesson.