The photo may look like a pair of cooling towers for a nuclear power plant, but they’re not. What you see is a scanning microscope image of two tiny devices, each about one fifth the width of a human hair. Each one is actually a micromotor, and the video shows how they propel themselves in fluids. Made from zinc that reacts with the acid found in the stomach, the cones produce tiny bubbles that propel them like tiny rockets. (The only thing missing is Raquel Welch in her white jumpsuit.)
These devices were developed by researchers in the NanoEngineering Department at the University of California San Diego Jacobs School of Engineering. They recently tested the little devices in live mice, testing to see if they could deliver a chemical payload to the stomach lining more effectively than if the material was simply swallowed. The motors reached speeds of up to 60 micrometers per second. (That may sound impressive, but it actually is a lot slower than one foot per hour.) The machines managed to power through the mucous layer lining the stomach, and delivered about three times the payload. The non-toxic zinc eventually dissolves and disappears.
The researchers believe that it may be able to add navigation capabilities to the technology, which could make them even more useful for applications including targeted drug delivery, diagnostics, nanosurgery, and biopsies of tumors and other tissues.