When Elon Musk proposes that we travel from city to city via rockets, you feel like you’ve just about seen everything, and there’s nothing left that could shock you or perhaps, astonish you anymore. And then, you wake up another morning, to learn that scientists at the University of Manchester have created the world’s first molecular-assembling-robot, or a Molecular Robot. So, after empowering robots to help humans, it’s time for them to be making (or rather assembling) molecules!
What is a Molecular Robot?
A molecular assembler, or molecular robot, that can build molecules; sounds like it’s straight out of science fiction, right? Well, it shouldn’t anymore, because it is out, and real. Miniaturizing machinery has been the key focus of nanotech, and this feat marks another significant accomplishment for the field.
The assembler, dubbed the ‘molecular robot’ by the team, is capable of performing ‘basic tasks’ (as stated by the article on the website of the University of Manchester), that include building molecules. These robots are so small that an individual robot can manipulate only one molecule at a time.
The Size of the Molecular Robot
The molecular robot is composed of 150 carbon, oxygen, nitrogen and hydrogen atoms in entirety. The robot is a millionth of a millimeter in size (1×10-6 mm). As per its creators, if 1,000,000,000,000,000,000 (1 billion, billion) or 1×1018 of these robots are piled together, they will sum up to the size of a few grains of salt, at most.
How Do They Function?
These molecular bots use a tiny robotic ‘arm’ to manipulate and build cargo on a molecular level once programmed to do so. The team’s lead researcher at the University’s School of Chemistry, Professor David Leigh, elaborated on the robot, saying that it is constructed of atoms, as simply as a child’s Lego robot. Further, he explains, that a scientist programs a series of simple commands via chemical inputs to which the robot responds.
Following Professor Leigh’s words, we can assume that the architecture is plain, but it is the process of building and operation which is complex. In a covert description on the university website article, it has mentioned that these robots carry out chemical reactions in ‘special solutions’ which can be controlled and programmed to perform ‘the basic tasks’.
The one thing that is clear would be that the techniques used to make the robot functional, are indeed, simple chemical processes, as Professor Leigh was also quoted saying, “The robots are assembled and operated using chemistry. This is the science of how atoms and molecules react with each other and how larger molecules are constructed from smaller ones.”
He also estimates that within the coming one or two decades, “these robots will begin to be used to build molecules and materials on assembly lines in molecular factories”, just as we have car-building robots on assembly lines today. One of the long sought achievements of nanotech that we’ve been waiting to hear about.
Applications: The Future
Molecular robotics will help realize ultimate miniaturization of machinery in the near future and help in the advancement of manufacturing processes. A major pro of having machines that are so small is that it will cut down demand for materials by a colossal number. It will also significantly reduce energy requirements.
Moreover, these robots could revolutionize the medical field; they have the capability to accelerate and improve drug discovery and formation/manufacturing. The future of molecular robots holds applications that can be varied, and overwhelmingly game-changing.
Journal Reference: Nature