Someday soon, targeting medical treatments at just the right part of the body will get a lot easier, and that’s because we’ll have nanomachines to help us. Scientists are building devices so small they could travel through the bloodstream like the Magic School bus to deliver insulin for diabetics who need it or attack cancer cells while leaving healthy cells alone.
This week the University of Texas announced what it is calling the smallest and best such nanomotor ever built. Mechanical engineer Donglei Fan led a group of engineers who built a motor 500 times smaller than a grain of salt. Measuring 1 micrometer across, it could fit inside a human cell.
The setup, seen in the video above, looks like a spinning stick atop a battery. The stick part is a nanowire; it sits and spins on a nanomagnet featuring a microelectrode. In tests, Fan’s motors spun at 18,000 rpm and could keep spinning for 15 hours. As it spins, the wire could hurl chemicals at the targeted cell.