Science fiction has been turned into science fact by researchers who have created nano-size rockets. Just like the miniaturised Proteus vessel in Fantastic Voyage, which tackles a blood clot in the brain of a defecting Russian scientist, these nano craft may one day zoom around the human body on medical missions.
They have been created by researchers at Radboud University Nijmegen in Holland, who say they could carry life-saving cargoes. ‘We think this is the first realistic and useable nano motor,’ the researchers say. Lead researcher Professor Jan van Hest continued: ‘Our nano rocket is made building on a simple design, using so-called polymersomes , which are ball shaped containers, as the main component. ‘Since we master the craft to include different types of molecules in these containers and link them to marker molecules or functional enzymes, and peptides on the outside, we foresee practical use of these engines in the near future, for instance as drug delivery systems.’
The nanoparticles are about ten times smaller than a bacterium, self-assemble into tiny orbs and use hydrogen peroxide as fuel. Power is generated when it is decomposed by platinum nanoparticles into oxygen and water. ‘This generates a rapid discharge, which induces thrust and directional movement,’ the researchers write in Nature Chemistry.
However, before the Fantastic Voyage becomes a reality, there are a few hurdles to overcome. Firstly, the hydrogen peroxide will run out, so the rockets need to be able to refuel automatically, and it’s toxic to human tissue. The scientists also need to learn how to steer them. Still, nanoengineer Joseph Wang of the University of California, San Diego, told Wired that ‘it’s an exciting step toward the dream of the Fantastic Voyage’.