Microswimmers make a splash

Tiny travelers take on a viscous world

By Laura Sanders, 10:05 AM June 18, 2009

Michael Phelps, one of the greatest swimmers of all time, propels himself forward by hurling water behind his body. If he were the size of a bacterium, though, that strategy wouldn’t make much of a splash. In a microworld Olympics, Phelps would go home medalless.

At tiny scales of 10 micrometers and below, life is largely conducted as if in a thick fluid, where every motion is immediately dampened by the highly viscous muck. Here, where water seems to take on the consistency of honey, the coa...

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