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Nanomotor is `100 million times more powerful than a V6`

01 April, 2005

Nanomotor is `100 million times more powerful than a V6`

Researchers in the US claim to have developed the world`s smallest "motor" - although it looks nothing like any conventional machine. It is based on atoms that shuttle between a pair of metal droplets - one small, the other large - residing on a carbon nanotube.

An electric current passed through the tube causes atoms to move from the larger droplet to the smaller, effectively building up potential energy in the smaller drop in the form of surface tension. Eventually, the smaller drop grows so big that it touches the larger one, discharging its energy as the bigger drop reabsorbs its atoms (shown in the above computer simulation).

This process forms the basis for a variable frequency "relaxation oscillator". The researchers, based at the University of California at Berkeley, suggest that the oscillations could be harnessed by attaching a mechanical linkage, which could move a MEMS (microelectromechanical system) device, to propel it like an inchworm.

Although the peak pulsed power of the device is just 20µW, the nanometre-scale dimensions of the atomic motor mean that its power density is 100 million times greater than that of a V6 car engine.

(Photo courtesy: Zettl Research Group, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, and the University of California at Berkeley).

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