Although space may be “the final frontier,” there are still plenty of other frontiers humanity has only begun to explore. The microscopic world, for one, is apparently ripe for adventure and innovation. Just recently, for example, scientists created tiny, somersaulting robots that work their way through colons. And now, another team of brilliant minds has created a microscopic USS Voyager from Star Trek.
Leiden Institute of Physics
CNN reported on the miniature Intrepid-class vessel, which was only one of a handful of micro machines its makers have produced. The team of scientists, at Leiden University in the Netherlands, has also made a tiny tug boat, for example. As well as microscopic screw-like spirals that look similar to Fusilli.
The team behind the microscopic machines, led by Rachel Doherty and Daniela Kraft, refer to them as “microswimmers,” and note they’re 3D-printed. Doherty and Kraft say they use a “Nanoscribe Photonic Professional printer,” which its builders describe in the video at bottom. (For anyone wondering what kind of 3D-printer can make stuff on this small of a scale.)
In regards to how the micro USS Voyager propels itself, there is, unfortunately, no warp drive involved. Instead, the starship, as well as all these other nanoscale vehicles—which are only 30% the wide of a human hair—move thanks to a chemical reaction.
Kraft notes the… crafts propel themselves thanks to a reaction between hydrogen peroxide and a patch of platinum. I.e. all these microswimmers have on board a speck of platinum and hydrogen peroxide next to each other; when the microswimmers are placed in water, the H2O accelerates the platinum’s decomposition of the hydrogen peroxide into water and oxygen. And because the decomposition releases energy, the microswimmers move forward.
In regards to real-world applicability for this kind of technology, it seems like the Delta Quadrant is the limit. Not only are Doherty, Kraft, and their colleagues going to continue developing microswimmers for the sake of studying micro-propulsion, but, according to a recent paper they published in the journal, Soft Matter, they also have an eye on diagnostic and drug delivery use cases. Which means one day soon-ish, you could have a starship battling invading Borgs of bacteria in your body!
Feature image: Leiden Institute of Physics