Modeling Microscopic Chemical Sensors in Capillaries

Tad Hogg *
Hewlett-Packard Laboratories, Palo Alto, CA, USA

© 2009 Tad Hogg.

open-access license: This is an open access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International Public License (CC-BY 4.0), a copy of which is available at: This license permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original author and source are credited.

* Address correspondence to this author at the Hewlett-Packard Laboratories, Palo Alto, CA, USA; E-mail:


Nanotechnology-based microscopic robots could provide accurate in vivo measurement of chemicals in the bloodstream for detailed biological research and as an aid to medical treatment. Quantitative performance estimates of such devices require models of how chemicals in the blood diffuse to the devices. This paper models microscopic robots and red blood cells (erythrocytes) in capillaries using realistic distorted cell shapes. The models evaluate two sensing scenarios: robots moving with the cells past a chemical source on the vessel wall, and robots attached to the wall for longer-term chemical monitoring of chemicals released into the bloodstream. Using axial symmetric geometry with realistic flow speeds and diffusion coefficients, we compare detection performance with a simpler model that does not include the cells. The average chemical absorption is quantitatively similar in both models, indicating the simpler model is an adequate design guide to sensor performance in capillaries. However, determining the variation in forces and absorption as cells move requires the full model.