Scientists Invent The World's Tiniest Engine That Could Enter Living Cells To Fight Diseases

First Posted: May 05, 2016 06:50 AM EDT

Scientists from the University of Cambridge have invented the world's tiniest engine, which is about a few billionths of a meter in size. It's been given a name "ANT." This nanoscale engine could be the basis of future nanomachines that enter into the living cells to battle a disease, circumnavigate in water and sense the environment around them.

Dr. Tao Ting, the first author of the study from Cambridge's Cavendish Laboratory said that this is just like an explosion. He further said that they have hundreds of gold balls flying apart in a millionth of a second when water molecules inflate the polymers around them, according to Science Daily.

Professor Jeremy Baumberg, the lead author of the study said that like real ants, they make large forces for their weight. "The challenge we now face is how to control that force for nano-machinery applications.

Telegraph reports that the prototype device is composed of tiny charges particles of gold that are attached together with temperature-responsive polymers. The nano-engine accumulates a large amount of elastic energy when heated and the gold nanoparticles attach together into tight clusters. They have quickly pushed apart when they are cooled.

Baumberg said their main challenge is how to build a device that exploits the forces for motion in one direction---a bit like a piston or steam engine. He further said that currently the force just increase and contracts in all directions. He added that the smart part here is they make use of Van de Waals attraction of heavy metal particles to set the springs (polymers) and water molecules to release them, which is very reversible and reproducible.

The researchers are now having talks with private companies to commercialize the technology for microfluidics bio-application. The study is subsidized by European Research Council and as part of a UK Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) investment in the Cambridge NanoPhotonics Centre.

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