Nano- and micromotors for biological and chemical applications

May 28, 2014
Nano- and micromotors are often mimics of natural biological motors. Credit: Catalan Institute of Nanoscience and Nanotechnology

Nano- and micromotors are ultra-small devices designed to perform selected mechanical movements in response to specific stimuli. These movements include rotation, rolling, shuttling, delivery, contraction or collective behaviour, depending on the design of the motor and its biologically or chemically functionalized components.

These devices are principally characterized according to the type of energy input that they use, as their operating mechanism is strongly related to the energy source. It can be fuel (natural or synthetic), or a physical source (e.g., light, magnetic fields, electric fields, or ultrasonic acoustic waves). Nano- and micromotors are often mimics of natural biological motors.

Researchers from the Nanobioelectronics and Biosensors Group at the Institut Català de Nanociència i Nanotecnologia (ICN2) have recently published an extensive review in Chemical Reviews entitled "Nano/Micromotors in (Bio)chemical Science Applications". The authors of this work, summarizing the state-of-the art knowledge about the design of such devices for biological and chemical applications, are Dr. Maria Guix, Dr. Carmen C. Mayorga-Martinez, and Prof. Arben Merkoçi, ICREA Research Professor and Group Leader at ICN2.

Over the past decade, researchers have shown increased interest in nano- and micromotors. After preliminary works which constituted a proof of concept, research in this area is progressing into specific applications for areas such as biomedicine (e.g., diagnostics), environmental monitoring and remediation, food safety, and security.

This video is not supported by your browser at this time.
Credit: Catalan Institute of Nanoscience and Nanotechnology

The review explains examples of natural biological motors, like those present in the cytoskeleton, the DNA- or RNA-processing enzymes or the bacterial rotary flagellar motors, which have inspired several engineered nano- and micromotors. After that, the authors highlight the latest achievements in synthetic motors, including catalytic nanomotors based on various chemical or biochemical fuels, and discuss the respective limitations of these devices. Their movement depends on an external source (light, magnetic or electric fields, or ultrasonic waves). Finally, the review provides an overview of hybrid motors, which integrate natural biological parts with synthetic components across a range of materials and functionalities.

The article concludes that nano- and micromotors offer extraordinary potential for future biochemical and biomedical applications. Various energy sources have been explored to increase the lifetime of these devices and make them compatible with in vivo applications. The final goal is the remote operation of nano- and micromotors in the human body as fully controllable nanorobots, but right now it still belongs to science fiction literature. The next years of research will be crucial to determine if these dreamt devices will become real.

Explore further: A new genre of 'intelligent' micro- and nanomotors

More information: Guix M, Mayorga-Martinez CC, Merkoçi A. Nano/Micromotors in (Bio)chemical Science Applications. Chem Rev. 2014 May 14. [Epub ahead of print] Chemical Reviews - ICN2

Related Stories

A new genre of 'intelligent' micro- and nanomotors

January 30, 2013

Enzymes, workhorse molecules of life that underpin almost every biological process, may have a new role as "intelligent" micro- and nanomotors with applications in medicine, engineering and other fields. That's the topic ...

Newly discovered mechanism propels micromotors

October 15, 2013

Scientists studying the behavior of platinum particles immersed in hydrogen peroxide may have discovered a new way to propel microscopic machines. The new mechanism is described in The Journal of Chemical Physics.

Recommended for you

Fast times and hot spots in plasmonic nanostructures

August 4, 2015

The ability to control the time-resolved optical responses of hybrid plasmonic nanostructures was demonstrated by a team led by scientists in the Nanophotonics Group at the Center for Nanoscale Materials including collaborators ...

Study explores nanoscale structure of thin films

August 4, 2015

The world's newest and brightest synchrotron light source—the National Synchrotron Light Source II (NSLS-II) at the U.S. Department of Energy's Brookhaven National Laboratory—has produced one of the first publications ...

Meet the high-performance single-molecule diode

July 29, 2015

A team of researchers from Berkeley Lab and Columbia University has passed a major milestone in molecular electronics with the creation of the world's highest-performance single-molecule diode. Working at Berkeley Lab's Molecular ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.