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Magnetic spray transforms inanimate objects into minirobots

Taking a page out of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, scientists have engineered a spray that turns inanimate materials into mobile, insect-scale machines. The spray contains particles of iron, polyvinyl alcohol, and gluten, which combine with water to form sticky, magnetic skins, or “M-skins.” Thanks to the spray’s magnetic properties, the scientists managed to bring to life ordinary objects such as origami paper and cotton thread, according to a paper published last week in Science Robotics.

The researchers captured footage of the “millirobots” rolling, swimming, and walking—literally strutting their stuff. But they also performed more purposeful tasks: simulated biomedical procedures. Robotic catheters navigated narrow blood vessels and egg-shaped capsules delivered drugs into living rabbit stomachs.