Public Release: 

Rutgers to create ultra-tiny 'bio-nano' motors under National Science Foundation grant

Rutgers University

NEW BRUNSWICK/PISCATAWAY, N.J. - Three engineering departments at Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey - mechanical and aerospace, biomedical, and chemical and biochemical - are teaming up to create a prototype of an ultra-tiny motor small enough to be part of a system that could eventually travel patients' bloodstreams to help repair damaged cells, organs and DNA.

A prototype of the "Viral Protein Nano Motor" is expected to be unveiled in 2007, with research and development funded by a four-year $1,050,017 grant from the National Science Foundation and its Nanoscale Science and Engineering program

The term "nano" refers to nanotechnology - the study and process of working with devices and assembling structures by using atom- or molecule-sized building blocks. In this case, Rutgers scientists are using biological molecules derived from virus-based proteins to build a bio-nano motor that can perform a linear opening and closing motion.

The motor, invisible to the naked eye, will be so small that 50,000 of them would be able to line up in the width of a human hair. It would potentially work within systems of additional nano components that may perform such actions as spinning, stretching or sensing temperature or position. Together, these components would make up the systems that travel the bloodstream or perform other unprecedented tasks in medicine and industry.

"Various bio-nano components like our linear motor will be developed throughout the world over the next 10 years," said Constantinos Mavroidis, Rutgers associate professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering and principal investigator on the project. "Availability of these components will then pave the way for development of complete nanorobotic assemblies in the ensuing years."

At Rutgers, Mavroidis is working closely with Martin Yarmush, chairman of biomedical engineering; Silvina Tomassone, assistant professor of chemical and biochemical engineering; Atul Dubey and Gaurav Sharma; graduate research assistants in the department of mechanical and aerospace engineering; and Kevin Nikitczuk, an undergraduate research assistant in the department of biomedical engineering. Other scientists involved in the project include Fotios Papadimitrakopoulos of the University of Connecticut's chemistry department and Bernie Yurke, a physicist with Lucent Techologies, Bell Labs.

Mavroidis said the idea had its genesis about two years ago in conversations with Yarmush. "Because the motor will be used in an assembly of various biological components, we considered using proteins and DNA molecules as the building blocks," Mavriodis said. "By putting together my experience in robotics and mechanical design with Dr. Yarmush's knowledge of biomedical engineering, we began to come up with some answers."

Connecting the motor with other biological and structural elements is where chemistry and biochemistry come in, Mavroidis said. "No one has tried this to the extent that we're doing it. It's really very new. It's a new molecular motor and the assembly of various biological elements that can work together in a multi-component bio-nano system."

Mavriodis compares developing bio-nano motors to designing the internal combustion engine, which later was combined with other components to develop such history-changing advances as the automobile and airplane. "Two years ago, our ideas seemed very ambitious, like science fiction. Now it's becoming a reality," he said.

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