We present a methodology for building biologically inspired, soft microelectromechanical systems (MEMS) devices. Our strategy combines several advanced techniques including programmable colloidal self-assembly, light-harvesting with plasmonic nanotransducers, and in situ polymerization of compliant hydrogel mechanisms. We synthesize optomechanical microactuators using a template-assisted microfluidic approach in which gold nanorods coated with thermoresponsive poly(N-isopropylmethacrylamide) (pNIPMAM) polymer function as nanoscale building blocks. The resulting microactuators exhibit mechanical properties (4.8 ± 2.1 kPa stiffness) and performance metrics (relative stroke up to 0.3 and stress up to 10 kPa) that are comparable to that of bioengineered muscular constructs. Near-infrared (NIR) laser illumination provides effective spatiotemporal control over actuation (sub-micron spatial resolution at millisecond temporal resolution). Spatially modulated hydrogel photolithography guided by an experimentally validated finite element-based design methodology allows construction of compliant poly(ethylene glycol) diacrylate (PEGDA) mechanisms around the microactuators. We demonstrate the versatility of our approach by manufacturing a diverse array of microdevices including lever arms, continuum microrobots, and dexterous microgrippers. We present a microscale compression device that is developed for mechanical testing of three-dimensional biological samples such as spheroids under physiological conditions.
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