A Little Motor That Could

December 23, 2014

Donglei "Emma" FanA research team led by Donglei “Emma” Fan, PhD ’07, has created a nanomotor that’s tiny enough to fit inside a human cell—and powerful enough to run for 15 continuous hours at the speed of a jet airplane motor (18,000 rpms).

Because the nanomotor can rapidly mix and pump biochemicals and move through liquids, it’s an important step toward developing miniature machines that could one day move through the body to administer insulin for diabetics when needed, or target and treat cancer cells without harming good cells.

“We were able to establish and control the molecule release rate by mechanical rotation, which means our nanomotor is the first of its kind for controlling the release of drugs from the surface of nanoparticles,” says Fan, now an assistant professor of mechanical engineering at the University of Texas at Austin’s Cockrell School of Engineering, where she led the research. “We believe it will help advance the study of drug delivery and cell-to-cell communications.”

The team’s study was published in the April 2014 issue of Nature Communications.

This article originally appeared in the Winter 2015 issue of JHU Engineering Magazine.

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