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June 26, 2016

Nanobots can help transform medicine

An engine the size of an atom? It’s possible, researchers from the University of Mainz in Germany have shown. They don’t have a particular use in mind for the engine yet, but it’s a good illustration of how we are increasingly able to replicate the everyday machines we rely on at a tiny scale. These kinds of inventions are opening the way for some exciting possibilities in the future, particularly in the use of nanorobots in medicine, that could be sent into the body to release targeted drugs or even fight diseases such as cancer, according to an article on Business Insider.

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Nanotechnology deals with ultra-small objects equivalent to one billionth of a metre in size. At the moment it is possible to take a closer look on the nano level, but we still can’t build machines at the nanoscale using conventional engineering tools. things at the nanoscale follow the more complex laws of quantum mechanics. So different tools are needed, that take into account the quantum world in order to manipulate atoms and molecules in a way that uses them as building blocks for nanomachines. Business Insider sums up four more tiny machines that could have a big impact on the way people are cured or perhaps even prevented from getting sick.

Graphene engine for nanorobots

Researchers from Singapore have recently demonstrated a nano-sized engine made from a highly elastic piece of graphene. Inserting some chlorine and fluorine molecules into the graphene lattice and firing a laser at it causes the sheet to expand. Rapidly turning the laser on and off makes the graphene pump back and forth like the piston in an internal combustion engine. The researchers think the graphene nano-engine could be used to power tiny robots, for example to attack cancer cells in the body.

Frictionless nano-rotor

Nanotechnology can be used to create a motor from a single molecule, which can rotate without any friction. Normal rotors interact with the air according to Newton’s laws as they spin round and so experience friction. At the nanoscale, molecular rotors follow quantum law, meaning they don’t interact with the air in the same way and so friction doesn’t affect their performance. This form of nano-engine could also be used to power a tiny robot around the body.

Controllable nano-rockets

Several groups of researchers have recently constructed a high-speed, remote-controlled nanoscale version of a rocket by combining nanoparticles with biological molecules. The researchers hope to develop the rocket so it can be used in any environment, for example to deliver drugs to a target area of the body.

Magnetic nano-vehicles for carrying drugs

A research group lead by the author of the article is among those working on a simpler way to carry drugs through the body that is already being explored with magnetic nanoparticles. Drugs are injected into a magnetic shell structure that can expand in the presence of heat or light. This means that, once inserted into the body, they can be guided to the target area using magnets and then activated to expand and release their drug. The technology is also being studied for medical imaging.

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