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Science & Technology

Scientists build the world's smallest engine

By T.K. Randall
May 3, 2016 · Comment icon 10 comments

The tiny engine could one day be used in nanorobotics. Image Credit: CC BY-SA 3.0 CSIRO
University of Cambridge physicists have created an engine that is one million times smaller than an ant.
The microscopic prototype contraption, which is actually a fully operational engine, works using a combination of gold particles, laser beams and a physics principle called van der Waals forces.

Inside, the engine contains clumps of gold particles embedded within a watery polymer gel. When lasers are fired at this gel it heats up, expelling the water and causing the particles to stick together.

Once the gel cools the water is soaked up again and the particles violently snap apart.

"It's like an explosion," said study author Tao Ding. "We have hundreds of gold balls flying apart in a millionth of a second when water molecules inflate the polymers around them."
Despite its tiny size this remarkable little engine is actually highly efficient.

"We can get 10 nano-Newton forces, about ten to a hundred times more force per unit weight than any known other machine, from jet engines to molecular motors," said Prof Jeremy Baumberg.

The device is the researchers' first attempt at building a nanorobot motor and could eventually be used to propel tiny beneficial machines around the insides of the human body.

"We would say that this is really going to be the basis for 'practical' nanoscale engines," said Prof Baumberg. "You need huge forces to make practical devices, and no one has made these before."

Source: Sydney Morning Herald | Comments (10)

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Recent comments on this story
Comment icon #1 Posted by freetoroam 8 years ago
Ah, now this is cutting edge science.
Comment icon #2 Posted by paperdyer 8 years ago
At the price of gold can we afford these?
Comment icon #3 Posted by BeastieRunner 8 years ago
That ... is a small engine.
Comment icon #4 Posted by bubblykiss 8 years ago
Finally something to power my worlds smallest violin playing machine. I was getting tired from hand-cranking it.
Comment icon #5 Posted by Aardvark-DK 8 years ago
Finally something I can use in my Smurf collection...
Comment icon #6 Posted by Infernal Gnu 8 years ago
FINALLY something artificially intelligent terminators can use to wipe us all off the face of the earth without sending a single killer android after us. They can simply kill us all with trillions of self-replicating nanobots the size of bacteria, using advanced versions of these crude prototype microscopic engines.
Comment icon #7 Posted by danielost 8 years ago
don't we first have to design these nano-bots
Comment icon #8 Posted by highdesert50 8 years ago
Brings an entirely new meaning to the definition of internal combustion engine.
Comment icon #9 Posted by Hawkin 8 years ago
I can replace my Briggs & Stratton engine on my riding mower with that.
Comment icon #10 Posted by pallidin 8 years ago
Pilot: Good afternoon ladies and gentlemen, we are taxing on the runway and will proceed shortly to flight. Our ANT Engines are ready. Have a good flight.

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