Slime Robots


“Plasmodium” by Carolina Biological Supply Company is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

By: Isabel D'mello, Journalist

“Physarum polycephalum” by Dru! is licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0

What comes to mind when you think of robots? The conventional robot is something that most of us can name: a solid machine that rolls or walks to move around. Now imagine a robot that can move fluidly and slip into places that normal robots are unable to.  This robot would be capable of withstanding a different set of conditions from its solid counterpart, flowing and cleaning through pipes,  airways, or even the human body.

Physarum polycephalum is what’s called a slime mold.  This particular species is rather unappealing to the eye, but it is a fascinating organism. Slime molds are classified as Protista. The entire creature is a single cell containing hundreds of nuclei. For one phase of their growth, they exist as slugs, each containing a single nucleus. The slugs move together to create a single mass that acts as one to reproduce.

Having a robot that can move and act like a slime mold would be very beneficial. It would move and think through chemical reactions. This creates a new category of machines that could revolutionize anything from plumbing to space exploration. Some scientists have already started to engineer robots like this.

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