Campus News

Researchers find new way to create tiny ‘natural motors’

A team of UGA physicists has demonstrated for the first time a new technique to create tiny “natural motors” that could lead to new methods of drug delivery, disease treatment and bioengineering.

The research by Yiping Zhao, Yuping He and Jinsong Wu shows a new way to create “catalytic nanomotors,” naturally occurring power sources for nanometer-scale machines, which are powered by chemical reactions.

“To make the nanomachine, the first step is to make all the different parts, and designing the different parts is the biggest challenge,” Zhao said. “The most important aspect of this finding is that we can design the parts, and we can design them to work in specific ways.”

The research was published in the online edition of the American Chemical Society journal Nano Letters.

These tiny machines could one day be the tools to open constricted or clogged blood vessels too small for conventional stents or they could deliver drugs by drilling through the cell wall of an organism. Zhao sees many other uses, including one in which the motors could be designed to exchange, release and deposit different chemicals in the body or elsewhere, all the product of a “molecular assembly line.”

Zhao, an assistant professor in the department of physics and astronomy and a member of the UGA Faculty of Engineering, and his group were able to demonstrate a simple technique to fabricate catalytic nanomotors using Dynamic Shadowing Growth. The new technique involves a simple modification of existing methods that allows for greater flexibility in designing desired nanomotor structures. Zhao calls it a distinct improvement on previous attempts at nanomotor design.

Synthetic nanomotors, using a catalyst to turn the chemical energy into kinetic energy, are already commonplace. Until now, however, the range of achievable motion has been limited to linear directions of the submicroscopic metal particles. Zhao’s point of reference was to look to the hundreds of moving parts in an automobile as the context for similarly designing each part of a nanomotor to achieve a controlled, flexible range of motion for the parts to work together.

After successfully using the new technique to design nanorods to rotate, Zhao and post-doctoral researcher Yuping He took the process one step further. They broke the symmetry of the rods to form L-shaped rods that could be used to form larger particles. Then they transformed the rods into spiral shapes so that its rotation would mimic the turning of a drill.

“We are delighted to have Yiping Zhao on the faculty at UGA and particularly excited about this research,” said Garnett Stokes, dean of the Franklin College of Arts and Sciences. “The possibilities for practical applications of nanomotor design are highly significant.”