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“World’s smallest engine” to power microscopic robots

by • May 4, 2016 • No Comments

It is frequently said that size matters. At the nano-scale level, where a lot of current research is being done, this adage in addition holds true, and several scientific teams have laid claim to creating the “world’s smallest engine” created of particles of ever-shrinking size. The latest, a nano-scale engine created of small charged particles of gold and created by researchers at the University of Cambridge, is claimed to be the smallest of them all.

The latest nano-motor has been created of microscopic charged particles of gold that are held together in a gel by via temperature-sensitive polymers, whilst the whole contraption is suspended in water. When heated with a laser, the nano-engine approximately immediately takes on and stores a sizeable amount of energy and stores it as mechanical (elastic) energy by forcing the gold nano-particles together into tightly-bonded clusters.

When the machine is subsequently cooled, the polymer gel absorbs water of its surroundings and quickly expands, forcefully pushing the gold nano-particles apart with the release of the stored mechanical energy.

“It’s like an explosion,” said Dr Tao Ding of Cambridge’s Cavendish Laboratory. “We have hundreds of gold balls flying apart in a millionth of a 2nd when water molecules inflate the polymers around them.”

The team claims that the forces exerted in this way are orders of magnitude sizeabler than those for any much like device. A much like charged-particle engine, the single-atom engine of JGU, is claimed to create energy at an efficiency of around 33 percent, whereas the Cambridge unit is spoken of in force unit per mass, so it is complex to compare. On the other hand, the Cambridge researchers yet claim that pound for pound (or nanogram for nanogram), their device creates a force just about 100 times advantageous than any motor or muscle.

But engines in general, and nano-engines in particular, operate on much like principles, the effect is less like the Stirling engine system, and additional like a stored-energy device such as a spring.

“The whole system is like a nano-spring,” said Professor Jeremy Baumberg in addition of the Cavendish Laboratory. “The smart part here is we manufacture use of Van de Waals attraction of heavy metal particles to set the springs (polymers) and water molecules to release them, that is quite reversible and reproducible.”

The Cambridge engines have been dubbed “ANTs” (Actuating Nano-Transducers) for the way that their operation, whilst engine-like, is additional akin to the operations observed where energy is transformed of one form to another in a high-pressure pushing motion.

“Like real ants, they create sizeable forces for their mass,” said Professor Baumberg. “The challenge we now face is how to control that force for nano-machinery applications.”

In this vein, the creators believe one day their pint-sized power-plant may provide the motivation for a range of microscopic robots that may, for example, manufacture their way around the human body to directly fight viruses and diseases at their own level.

Further work and commercialization of the invention is now in the offing for the Cambridge team, particularly around developing the innovation for micro-fluidics bio-applications.

The researchers not long ago published the results of their work in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States.

Source: University of Cambridge


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