Photo: St Stev (flickr)
You’ve probably heard about nanotechnology, or the science of building tiny, microscopic particles and machines sometimes no larger than a few atoms across.
Objects at such a small scale can be useful in all sorts of ways.
For example, medical scientists are working on ways to use nano-engineered particles as vessels to deliver drugs inside the body. A microscopic sphere containing cancer drugs, say, could deliver its payload directly to a tumor without affecting healthy cells nearby.
So far, though, one problem has been manufacturing nano-particles of uniform shape and size. This is especially important when it comes to delivering precise amounts of a drug inside the body. So scientists at the University of Minnesota have invented a way to mass produce nano-sized spheres and cubes that are all precisely the same size and shape.
Here’s how they do it. First, they pack microscopic plastic spheres tightly together to form a mold, kind of like very small oranges in a box. The spaces between the spheres are filled with a sand-like material mixed with soap and acids, a mixture that causes the material to solidify. Under high temperatures the plastic mold melts away, leaving behind perfectly shaped nano-sized cubes and spheres of uniform size.
The cubes could be stacked like legos to form tiny circuits. And because the spheres are porous, like tiny sponges, they are perfect for absorbing materials like drugs and releasing them inside the body.