Researchers build the smallest jet engine in the world

Tiny rocket measures just 600 nanometers in diameter and weighs a picogram

Vision of the IFW researchers: complex nanomachines transport the smallest amounts of material, eg As medications, by liquids and deliver them to the desired location. © IFW Dresden
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Thin layers that curl themselves into tiny micro- and nanotubes whiz with their own drive and are controlled by magnets through liquids: Dresden scientists have produced the world's smallest man-made jet engine. This record has now been confirmed by "Guinness World Records ltd.".

The mini jet engine measures just 600 nanometers in diameter and weighs one picogram - 10 high minus 15 kilograms. The tiny rocket was made and demonstrated by Alex A. Solovev, Samuel Sanchez, Yongfeng Mei and Oliver G. Schmidt of the Leibniz Institute for Solid State and Materials Research (IFW Dresden). However, the researchers were less interested in setting a record of minuteness than in connecting new functionalities with it.

Complex nanomachines transport medicines

The scientists' vision is to design and manufacture complex nanomachines that are capable, for example, of transporting the smallest quantities of drugs and delivering them to a suitable location. Following the example of biological microorganisms, artificial micro-machines are to use the chemical energy of their environment and to use it for their own locomotion.

The research team around Schmidt has already come up with concrete ideas for such micro and nanorodules with their own drive: For the self-propelled microcontainers, titanium, iron and platinum layers are usually rolled up into tubes of about five micrometers in diameter and about 50 micrometers in length.

Oxygen bubbles provide directional movement

The innermost layer of these microtubes is platinum and also serves as a catalyst in the reaction of hydrogen peroxide to water and oxygen. This oxygen bubbles form, which are ejected from the micro- or nanotubes and thus lead to a rapid and directed movement of the tubes. An external magnetic field allows researchers to remotely control the movement, acceleration and directional changes of the tubes in a very simple way. display

Even more: loading and unloading of the cargo transported through the micro tubes is also possible and precisely controlled by a magnetic field. In the first experiments up to 60 styrofoam beads and some metallic nanoplates could be transported through the liquid.

Self-propelled micro rockets with enzymes as catalyst

Another promising application, according to the scientists, is the development of self-propelled micro-rockets with enzymes as catalysts. These consist of rolled-up titanium-gold layers and the enzyme catalase, which is found in cells of living organisms and very effectively decomposes hydrogen peroxide into oxygen and water.

As a result, the driving force is significantly increased, so that ten times higher speeds are achieved than before. In addition, microdrives of this type are better suited for use in biological systems.

Thin layers of titanium, iron and platinum

According to the researchers, the micro- and nanotubes are produced by the tension-driven reeling of thin layers of titanium, iron and platinum. Therein, thin layers are deposited on surfaces in such a way that the layers are under extremely high mechanical stress.

As the layers dissipate, some of the strain energy is released, causing the layer to curl up or deform. In this way, nanotubes and microtubes can be produced reproducibly with great precision in certain diameters and from very different materials.

(Leibniz Institute for Solid State and Materials Research Dresden, 09.03.2011 - DLO)