Active, Yet Little Mobility: Asymmetric Decomposition of H 2 O 2 Is Not Sufficient in Propelling Catalytic Micromotors

J Am Chem Soc. 2021 Aug 11;143(31):12154-12164. doi: 10.1021/jacs.1c04501. Epub 2021 Aug 2.


A popular principle in designing chemical micromachines is to take advantage of asymmetric chemical reactions such as the catalytic decomposition of H2O2. Contrary to intuition, we use Janus micromotors half-coated with platinum (Pt) or catalase as an example to show that this ingredient is not sufficient in powering a micromotor into self-propulsion. In particular, by annealing a thin Pt film on a SiO2 microsphere, the resulting microsphere half-decorated with discrete Pt nanoparticles swims ∼80% more slowly than its unannealed counterpart in H2O2, even though they both catalytically produce comparable amounts of oxygen. Similarly, SiO2 microspheres half-functionalized with the enzyme catalase show negligible self-propulsion despite high catalytic activity toward decomposing H2O2. In addition to highlighting how surface morphology of a catalytic cap enables/disables a chemical micromotor, this study offers a refreshed perspective in understanding how chemistry powers nano- and microscopic objects (or not): our results are consistent with a self-electrophoresis mechanism that emphasizes the electrochemical decomposition of H2O2 over nonelectrochemical pathways. More broadly, our finding is a critical piece of the puzzle in understanding and designing nano- and micromachines, in developing capable model systems of active colloids, and in relating enzymes to active matter.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't