Researchers Create Tiny “Rockets” to Zoom Around Inside the Human Body

by on November 26th, 2010
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It may sound more like fiction than reality, but Wei Gao, Aysegul Uygun, and Joseph Wang researchers from the University of California have developed tiny bubble rockets that can propel themselves around inside of the human body. They have published details of how they accomplished this feat in the Journal of the American Chemical Society.

As it turns out, this new latest body rocket isn’t the first of its kind, but it is certainly the most practical. It works, the authors say, by producing little tiny bubbles that squirt out the back end of the rocket, propelling it forward. Of course, because its mission is to move around inside a living person, it’s very small. Ten micrometers long to be exact, which is too small to see without a microscope. It’s thin too, at just two microns wide.

The rocket looks like a tiny tube made of a special kind of plastic that is resistant to body chemicals and doesn’t leave any trace evidence of its presence. Inside of the rocket, in the back end, is a tiny amount of zinc. When that zinc is exposed to bodily fluids it lets of a very tiny amount of hydrogen in the form of bubbles. Enough to make it go shooting from one body part to another, though the term shooting has to be used very loosely when talking about bubble rockets. In practice it goes about 1,000 micrometers per second, which if you looked at it under a microscope would appear to be very fast. In the real world, maybe not so much. Since the bubble blast only lasts for about ten seconds, the rocket would move about ten thousand micrometers, or ten millimeters which is about a quarter of an inch.

Granted that’s not much, the researchers acknowledge, but it’s more than enough to allow for capturing information about what’s going on in certain body parts, such as the gut or even large arteries or veins.

Thus far, the little rockets don’t have any measuring abilities, and aren’t retrievable without surgery, as they are more of a test-of-concept at this point, than an actual medical tool. The researchers point out however that sensors tiny enough to fit inside their little rocket do exist, and they plan to test them out in the very near future. If their trials are successful, many of us could one day find ourselves being injected a the doctor’s office with little rockets that zoom to a problem area and report back on its findings, and hopefully, provide answers to what ails us.

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