NSF Awards Bharti for Third Time in Past Year

Research Project Uses Microrobots, Could Change Assembly Methods

December 7, 2020

Nanoparticles under a microscopeBATON ROUGE, LA – For the third time in the past year, LSU Chemical Engineering Professor Bhuvnesh Bharti has received an award from the National Science Foundation. This time, it’s a three-year award of $296,000 for his project, “Magnetic Interactions for Selective Assembly and Reconfiguration of Colloids,” which could result in a change to the way we assemble structures, particularly through 3D printing.

“It’s a great feeling of pride and honor to receive three NSF awards in the past year,” Bharti said. “This shows that NSF recognizes, appreciates, and sees merit in the ideas proposed by LSU and my group. While the awards were made in the past year, my group has been working tirelessly on these topics for the last four years, and it is great to see fruitful outcomes of our efforts.”

This project builds on previous work by Bharti and his group to program the interlinking of tiny particles—comparable to the size of a bacteria or virus—in liquid using magnetic fields. The new NSF award allows them to take their idea further by enabling the development of a new methodology of synthesizing materials using nano and microparticles and designing microrobots that can print polymeric structures in liquid.

It sounds interesting, but what does it all mean?

“Colloidal self-assembly is a fascinating research topic,” said Ahmed Al Harraq, a third-year PhD student working on the project in the Bharti Research Group. “In our lab, we take assembly problems and we increase their potential, literally, by exposing particles to electromagnetic fields. The results we get are often far from trivial and that goes to show how working at the interface of different science domains shows new avenues for discoveries and engineering.”

“The particle-binding technique proposed here may provide a route to assemble structures that currently require complex synthetic processes,” Bharti said. “For example, one of the goals of the project is to develop unique micron-sized particle structures that can swim in liquid and polymerize the liquid along their path. This simple method may allow us to develop a new 3D-printing technique where instead of using expensive printers, we may use nanoparticles to form structures using a simple magnet.”

One other aspect of the award is that it gives Bharti the opportunity to work with students at the Louisiana School for the Visually Impaired—teaching them the importance of designing materials and their role in everyday life—and Baton Rouge Community College.

“I have long been involved with BRCC students,” Bharti said. “In the past few years, I’ve visited BRCC many times and recruited students to work in my lab. The goal here is to expose the students at BRCC to research opportunities available at LSU, such that they consider transferring from the community college to LSU. The project will involve two undergraduate students, one of which will be hired from BRCC.”


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Contact: Joshua Duplechain

Director of Communications