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Scientists developed world's smallest engine

The engine is just a few billionths of a metre in size and uses light to power itself.

May 4, 2016 14:16 IST
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Nano EngineA group of researchers from University of Cambridge researchers have built the world's smallest working engine. The research was published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America (PNAS) on 2 May 2016.

The engine is just a few billionths of a metre in size and uses light to power itself.

The nanoscale engine could form the basis of future nano-machines that can navigate in water, sense the environment around them, or even enter living cells to fight disease.

Professor Jeremy Baumberg from the Cavendish Laboratory, who led the research, has named the devices ANTs, or Actuating Nano-Transducers.

Key highlights of the nanoscale engine

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 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 the water from the gel and collapse.

This has the effect of forcing the gold nanoparticles to bind together into tight clusters.

However, when the device is cooled, the polymers take on water and expand, and the gold nanoparticles are strongly and quickly pushed apart.

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