Tiny 'bubble' rockets could be medical aid

Feb. 8, 2012 at 4:35 PM
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SAN DIEGO, Feb. 8 (UPI) -- U.S. scientists say "microrockets" that can move through acidic environments such as the human stomach could have a variety of medical applications.

Joseph Wang, a professor of nanoengineering at the University of California, San Diego, said such self-propelled nano- or micro-scale motors could have applications in targeted drug delivery or imaging in humans, or as a way to monitor industrial applications.

However, he said, current versions of these small-scale motors are not self-propelled and require the addition of a fuel -- commonly hydrogen peroxide -- while other versions cannot withstand extreme environments such as the stomach, which is very acidic.

The researchers, writing in the Journal of the American Chemical Society, said their new, tubular microrocket can move itself without added fuels in very acidic conditions.

Their microrocket spontaneously produces bubbles of hydrogen gas, which propels it forward in the same way gases spewing out of a rocket's motor nozzle can.

The microrocket's interior is lined with zinc, which is biocompatible and leads to the generation of the hydrogen bubbles, they said.

Wang's team has also developed a version with a magnetic layer, which enables them to guide the microrockets as they move forward.

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