ANTs nano-machine to fight diseases in future

, 1:23 PM IST

Washington: Can you imagine of a nano-machine that can navigate in water, sense the environment around them or even enter living cells to fight disease?

Researchers at the University of Cambridge have developed the world’s tiniest engine, just a few billionths of a metre in size, which uses light to power itself.

This nanoscale engine could form the basis of future nano-machines.

The prototype device is made of tiny charged particles of gold, bound together with temperature-responsive polymers in the form of a gel. When the ‘nano-engine’ is heated to a certain temperature with a laser, it stores large amounts of elastic energy in a fraction of a second as the polymer coatings expel all water from the gel and collapse.

This has the effect of forcing the gold nano-particles to bind together into tight clusters. But when the device is cooled, the polymers take on water and expand, and the gold nano-particles are strongly and quickly pushed apart, like a spring.

“It’s like an explosion,” said Cambridge’s Cavendish Laboratory’s Dr. Tao Ding, who is the paper’s first author.

Nano-machines have long been a dream of scientists and public alike, but since ways to actually make them move have yet to be developed. They have remained in the realm of science fiction. The new method, developed by the Cambridge researchers, is incredibly simple, but can be extremely fast and exert large forces.

The forces exerted by these tiny devices are several orders of magnitude larger than those for any other previously produced device with a force per unit weight nearly a hundred times better than any motor or muscle. According to researchers, the devices are also bio-compatible, cost-effective to manufacture, fast to respond and energy efficient.

Professor Jeremy Baumberg from the Cavendish Laboratory, who led the research, has named the devices ‘ANTs’ or actuating nano-transducers.

The study has been published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. (ANI)