Scientists have created a teeny tiny rocket that could swim around in your stomach and fix whatever ails you. You may have heard similar tales before, but this version has an excellent chance of landing in your gut thanks to a hydrogen-powered motor fuelled by a hydrogen bubble.
Previous “microrockets” have been fuelled by hydrogen peroxide, which disagrees with the human stomach. But this one can get the little motors zooming around at a speedy clip with a tiny bubble propelling it.
Wei Gao, Aysegul Uygun and Joseph Wang at the University of California, San Diego, published their work in a recent issue of the Journal of the American Chemical Society. They say their microrockets, which are shaped like tiny tubes 10 micrometres long with diameters of 2-5 micrometres, could be used for targeted drug delivery, nanoimaging or for the monitoring of industrial processes. They’re made of polyaniline (aka PANI), lined with a thin layer of zinc on the inner surface. When immersed in any highly acidic solution, the zinc loses electrons and gives off hydrogen bubbles, which means the minimotors self-propelled.
The lower the pH of the solution, the faster the minirocket will go. They reached a maximum of 1050 micrometres per second, and the scientists say the pH range in the human stomach would create a zippy environment for their device, which can keep going for between 10 seconds and two minutes.
Video: American Chemical Society