Penn State scientists put sound-powered motors inside living cells

For the first time ever, scientists have managed to insert nanomotors into living cells. Once inside, the gold, rocket-shaped motors were propelled with ultrasonic waves and steered with magnets. The team of chemists and engineers from Penn State University developed the nanomotors after experimenting with similar devices in nonliving cells. The key to making them work in living cells was to power them with ultrasonic waves instead of toxic fuels. 

For the first time, a team of chemists and engineers at Penn State University have placed tiny synthetic motors inside live human cells, propelled them with ultrasonic waves and steered them magnetically. It’s not exactly “Fantastic Voyage,” but it’s close. The nanomotors, which are rocket-shaped metal particles, move around inside the cells, spinning and battering against the cell membrane. “As these nanomotors move around and bump into structures inside the cells, the  show internal mechanical responses that no one has seen before,” said Tom Mallouk, Evan Pugh Professor of Materials Chemistry and Physics at Penn State. “This research is a vivid demonstration that it may be possible to use synthetic nanomotors to study cell biology in new ways. 

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