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Thursday, 23 November, 2000, 19:53 GMT
Nanocopters leave the drawing board

The first microscopic "helicopters", which could one day carry out medical tasks inside the body, have been built and test-driven by scientists.


With this demonstration, we believe we are defining a whole new technology

Carlo Montemagno
The devices, no bigger than a virus particle, could eventually move around the human body, ministering to its needs or dispensing drugs.

The metal rotors of the tiny machines are powered by the body's natural fuel, a chemical called ATP.

When the biomotors were tested in the laboratory, they were able to drive the helicopters' propellers for up to two-and-a-half hours.

This is an important first step towards producing miniature machines capable of functioning inside the living cell.

The tiny helicopters consist of three parts: metal propellers and a biological component attached to a metal post.

'Physiology of life'

When the three components are mixed together, the tiny machines self-assemble.

The biological material converts the body's biochemical fuel, ATP, into energy. This is used to turn the propellers at a rate of eight rotations per second.

A team at Cornell University, Ithaca, US, carried out the work.

Carlo Montemagno who led the team said: "With this demonstration, we believe we are defining a whole new technology.

"We have shown that hybrid nanodevices can be assembled, maintained and repaired using the physiology of life."

This is only a first step as the technology is still very inefficient. Only five of the first 400 biomotors worked. And scientists will have to show that the machines can function inside the living cell, something that may take many years to achieve.

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09 Aug 00 | Sci/Tech
DNA makes tiny tweezers
13 Apr 00 | Sci/Tech
Nanomachines get their orders
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