- Microsubmarines could pick up and move droplets of oil away from contaminated waters.
- The devices are about 10 times thinner than a human hair.
Scientists say they have built a self-propelled "microsubmarine" that can scoop up oil from contaminated waters and take the droplets to a collection facility.
While environmental engineers have used bacterial dispersant to break down oil spills for decades and are developing genetically modified organisms to "eat" oil, this would be the first controllable spill-buster.
"These are autonomous self-propelled motors," said Joseph Wang, distinguished professor of nano-engineering at the University of California, San Diego. "You can guide them back and forth to remove oil. It's the first example of using nano-machines for environmental remediation and has opened the door to a new direction."
The study by Wang and Maria Guix of the Catalan Institute of Nanotechnology in Barcelona appears in the American Chemical Society journal ACS Nano. The project piggybacks off earlier experiments in the past few years in Wang's lab to build self-propelled devices to do DNA sampling and attack cancer cells in blood serum.