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Winged microchip is smallest-ever human-made flying structure

Credit:  A 3D microflier sits next to a common ant to show scale;  Northwestern University

'Microfliers' could monitor air pollution, airborne disease and environmental contamination

Engineers have added a new capability to electronic microchips: flight.

About the size of a grain of sand, the new flying microchip, or "microflier," does not have a motor or engine. Instead, it catches flight on the wind -- much like a maple tree's propeller seed -- and spins like a helicopter through the air toward the ground.

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Nanorobots could target cancers and clear blood clots

Photo credit: unsplash.com by John Jackson

The future of internal medicine

Tiny nano-sized robots and vehicles that can navigate through blood vessels to reach the site of a disease could be used to deliver drugs to tumours that are otherwise difficult to treat.

Once injected or swallowed, most drugs rely upon the movement of body fluids to find their way around the body. It means that some types of disease can be difficult to treat effectively in this way.

One aggressive type of brain tumour known as glioblastoma, for example, kills hundreds of thousands of people a year. But because it produces finger-like projections into a patient's brain tissue that damage the blood vessels around them, it is hard for drugs to reach the tumour site.

'If you inject particles into the body, they will follow the blood,' said Professor Daniel Ahmed, who is currently leading the Acoustic Robotics Systems Lab at ETH Zurich in Switzerland.

Instead, scientists are turning to nanodevices – tiny robots and vehicles – to deliver drugs around the body in a controllable way. But first, they have to figure out how to drive them.

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