Pioneering research to assist in creation of nanomachines

November 14, 2007

A pioneering team from the University of Leicester is seeking to harness a force of nature- only measured accurately a decade ago – to help develop the technology of tomorrow.

Their work will have applications in what is considered to be science fiction where miniscule submarine-type machines might be used to destroy cancer cells.

The research group is believed to be the only group in the UK carrying out Casimir force measurements of smooth and patterned surfaces and assessing the utility of the force for nanotechnology.

The research arises from the quantum fluctuations of vacuum, part of quantum field theory, which at present is the universal theory describing the behaviour of all quantum particles.

The Casimir force is a subtle consequence of the vacuum fluctuations, which can be directly measured using the tools of nanotechnology, specifically atomic force microscopes.

Results of the research may lead to frictionless bearings and may solve one of the fundamental problems in nanomachines.

The research, led by Chris Binns, Professor of Nanoscience in the Department of Physics and Astronomy, is not only of fundamental interest. It is hoped that it will be able to harness the Casimir force as a way of transmitting force without contact in nanomachines, ie machines with components approaching the size of molecules.

He said: “Generally nanomachines are science fiction and so it is up to the imagination about what they could do but one of the most talked about potential use is in medical applications where submarine type machines might be used to identify cancer cells and destroy them.”

Normally in such machines the Casimir force is a problem, because at the small distances between components the force is quite strong and generates a fundamental ‘stickiness’ to everything, which is impossible to remove.

Professor Binns’ research is trying to turn the problem on its head, and to utilise the Casimir force as a useful way of transmitting force without contact, for example patterning surface to produce the lateral force in which one patterned surface can drag another one in the same direction.

The force was first accurately measured about 10 years ago and nanoscientists are currently trying to find ways to modify and use it, for instance in lateral force.

Professor Binns commented: “The research is at a fundamental level, so at this stage we only hope to determine how the force varies between surfaces composed of different materials and how patterning the surface changes it. Also, we want to measure the magnitude of the lateral force between surfaces.

“One new area we are starting to look at, however, is to measure the force between a normal material and a ‘metamaterial’. A metamaterial is a surface with a designed nanoscale patterning that gives strange optical properties.

“There are indications that with the right sort of patterning it may be possible to reverse the force to produce repulsion. This would have huge technological repercussions and lead to, for example, frictionless bearings, as well as getting rid of the stickiness problem in nano-machines.

“This is exciting research because it is controversial. Not everybody believes that a repulsive force is possible.”

Source: University of Leicester

Explore further: Physicists to study attractive and repulsive forces crucial in designing nano-machines

Related Stories

Revisiting quantum effects in MEMS

November 15, 2013

New calculations shows that the influence of quantum effects on the operating conditions of nanodevices has, until now, been overestimated.

Forces out of nothing

January 10, 2008

When a machine jams, it’s the fault of the engineer - or of physics. The latter is true at least for the first simple nanomachines which are slowed down by the Casimir effect. This force only works on the scale of a few ...

Metamaterials could reduce friction in nanomachines

December 7, 2009

(PhysOrg.com) -- Nanoscale machines expected to have wide application in industry, energy, medicine and other fields may someday operate far more efficiently thanks to important theoretical discoveries concerning the manipulation ...

Recommended for you

Resistive memory components the computer industry can't resist

October 23, 2017

Make way for some new memsistors. For years, the computer industry has sought memory technologies with higher endurance, lower cost, and better energy efficiency than commercial flash memories. Now, an international collaboration ...

Taming 'wild' electrons in graphene

October 23, 2017

Graphene - a one-atom-thick layer of the stuff in pencils - is a better conductor than copper and is very promising for electronic devices, but with one catch: Electrons that move through it can't be stopped.

Breakthrough in ultra-fast data processing at nanoscale

October 20, 2017

A research team from the National University of Singapore has recently invented a novel "converter" that can harness the speed and small size of plasmons for high frequency data processing and transmission in nanoelectronics.

2 comments

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

NanoStuff
not rated yet Nov 18, 2007
Myria83
not rated yet Jul 14, 2009
About the discovery of the repulsive force:

http://www.physor...049.html

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.