Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

Stop and search

25.02.2002


Proteins from the cell’s skeleton make roaming robots.
© SPL


Glowing nanobots map microscopic surfaces.

Unleashing hordes of molecular robots to explore a surface’s terrain can produce maps of microscopic structures and devices with higher resolutions than those produced by conventional microscopes, new research shows.

Each robot has a ’light’ attached to it, allowing its random movements to be tracked around obstacles, through cracks or under overhangs. Adding the paths of hundreds of wandering nanobots together builds up a map of the entire surface1.



To build their nanobots, Viola Vogel and colleagues at the University of Washington in Seattle modified natural molecular machines called microtubules. These are cylinders of a protein called tubulin, stacked like the bricks in a chimney. Normally, they act as scaffolding inside cells, known as the cytoskeleton, which controls cell shape. ’Motor’ proteins called kinesins shuttle materials around cells along the microtubule gangways.

To create self-propelled nanoscale robots, Vogel’s team reversed nature’s arrangement. By fixing kinesin molecules all over a surface, wormlike microtubules propel themselves randomly all over the surface. By attaching a fluorescent dye to the microtubules, the researchers can follow where they go - and where they don’t.

The immobilized kinesin molecules drive microtubules up and down smooth slopes, but they cannot propel them up steep walls because the microtubules are too stiff to bend up a sharp incline. These limits to the tubule’s peregrinations produce a topographical map of surfaces.

Because microtubule nanobots can penetrate holes, cavities and pores, they can reach places that cannot be seen by passively gazing through a microscope. Their progress would still remain visible if the surface is transparent to the light emitted by the probes.

What’s more, Vogel’s team claims, the robots could be designed to investigate specific aspects of a surface, such as regions that are attractive or repulsive to water. This information could help researchers to understand, for example, the structure of porous materials, the architecture of biological tissues, or the shapes of large molecules sitting on a surface.

In principle, nanobots should be able to see features that are less than 50 nanometres (millionths of a millimetre) across. Smaller details - perhaps down to one nanometre - might be visible if smaller ’molecular robots’ are created, the researchers hope.

The time required for the robots to explore the accessible surface fully depends on how many of them there are and on how fast they move (about 250 nm per second for microtubules). The researchers were able to map out their test surface by superimposing 500 images at a rate of one every 5 seconds.


References
Hess, H., Clemmens, J., Howard, J. & Vogel, V. Surface imaging by self-propelled nanoscale probes. Nano Letters 2, 113 - 116, (2002).

PHILIP BALL | © Nature News Service

More articles from Life Sciences:

nachricht Fish recognize their prey by electric colors
13.11.2018 | Rheinische Friedrich-Wilhelms-Universität Bonn

nachricht The dawn of a new era for genebanks - molecular characterisation of an entire genebank collection
13.11.2018 | Leibniz-Institut für Pflanzengenetik und Kulturpflanzenforschung

All articles from Life Sciences >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: A Chip with Blood Vessels

Biochips have been developed at TU Wien (Vienna), on which tissue can be produced and examined. This allows supplying the tissue with different substances in a very controlled way.

Cultivating human cells in the Petri dish is not a big challenge today. Producing artificial tissue, however, permeated by fine blood vessels, is a much more...

Im Focus: A Leap Into Quantum Technology

Faster and secure data communication: This is the goal of a new joint project involving physicists from the University of Würzburg. The German Federal Ministry of Education and Research funds the project with 14.8 million euro.

In our digital world data security and secure communication are becoming more and more important. Quantum communication is a promising approach to achieve...

Im Focus: Research icebreaker Polarstern begins the Antarctic season

What does it look like below the ice shelf of the calved massive iceberg A68?

On Saturday, 10 November 2018, the research icebreaker Polarstern will leave its homeport of Bremerhaven, bound for Cape Town, South Africa.

Im Focus: Penn engineers develop ultrathin, ultralight 'nanocardboard'

When choosing materials to make something, trade-offs need to be made between a host of properties, such as thickness, stiffness and weight. Depending on the application in question, finding just the right balance is the difference between success and failure

Now, a team of Penn Engineers has demonstrated a new material they call "nanocardboard," an ultrathin equivalent of corrugated paper cardboard. A square...

Im Focus: Coping with errors in the quantum age

Physicists at ETH Zurich demonstrate how errors that occur during the manipulation of quantum system can be monitored and corrected on the fly

The field of quantum computation has seen tremendous progress in recent years. Bit by bit, quantum devices start to challenge conventional computers, at least...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

VideoLinks
Industry & Economy
Event News

“3rd Conference on Laser Polishing – LaP 2018” Attracts International Experts and Users

09.11.2018 | Event News

On the brain’s ability to find the right direction

06.11.2018 | Event News

European Space Talks: Weltraumschrott – eine Gefahr für die Gesellschaft?

23.10.2018 | Event News

 
Latest News

The dawn of a new era for genebanks - molecular characterisation of an entire genebank collection

13.11.2018 | Life Sciences

Fish recognize their prey by electric colors

13.11.2018 | Life Sciences

Ultrasound Connects

13.11.2018 | Awards Funding

VideoLinks
Science & Research
Overview of more VideoLinks >>>