Researchers with the Institute of Micro and Nano Systems Technology in Norway have built a one-millimeter wide recreation of the original Pac-Man maze, all for the lo-fi enjoyment of some microscopic organisms. Rather than 8-bit graphics and pixelated fruit, the researchers built their “game” out of nanostructures that were colorfully lit in the manner of the 1980 arcade classic and then populated with single-celled organisms representing the circular hero. Rather than ghosts, the bad guys here are hungry multicellular creatures out to eat those unsuspecting ciliates.
While there’s no joystick or coin slot, obviously, the three species of microscopic animals are zipping around the maze just fine on their own. And that’s just the point — it was constructed as a way for the researchers to observe the behavioral patterns of the single-cell protozoans and their multi-cellular predators. While the Pac-Man board is obviously far from a natural habitat for these creatures, the walls and channels actually much more similar to real world conditions than an empty and sterile petri dish. With a single cell Pac-Man already happening, what we need next is a controllable nanocar version of Pole Position.