University of Cambridge engineers have constructed the world’s smallest engine named ANTS, which stands for actuating nano-transducers. It’s a nanoscale prototype comprised of charged gold particles and temperature-responsive polymers fused together in the form of a gel.
The ANTS moniker was given to this invention because those pint-sized insects are able to lift objects that are twice their weight, but this device exerts forces that are, “several orders of magnitude larger than those for any other previously produced device, with a force per unit weight nearly 100 times better than any motor or muscle,” according to the university’s announcement.
This discovery sets the stage for the next generation of nano-machines because it’s a practical application that can initiate movement. Lasers heated to certain temperatures can cause the engine to quickly store large quantities of elastic energy causing the gold particles to squeeze together in tight clusters. The cool-down process, however, forces the gold particles to disperse.
First author Tao Ding, Ph.D., of Cambridge University’s Cavendish Laboratory explained in a statement that this process is like an explosion.
“We have hundreds if gold balls flying apart in a millionth of a second when water molecules inflate the polymers around them,” he said.
More research needs to be performed in order to control the exertion done by these robots, but the team is looking at commercialization opportunities in microfluidic bio-applications.
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