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Over the past several years, bioengineers have built micro- and nanosized rockets that zip through liquids, fueled by chemical reactions between the materials that make up the rockets and their environments. The engineers hope someday these tiny motors could help deliver cargo, such as drugs. Unfortunately, many of these motors require toxic hydrogen peroxide as fuel source, limiting their use in the body. Now researchers have overcome this constraint by developing micromotors that run on water.
The particles, which are 20 µm in diameter, are asymmetric: A chemical reaction on the back side of the particle forms gas bubbles that propel the motor forward. The micromotors harness a well-known reaction between aluminum and water to produce hydrogen gas and aluminum hydroxide.