Remote-controlled nano-devices that look like sperm may one day deliver drugs to where they are needed in the body thanks to the efforts by a research team that also includes an India-origin researcher.
Peer Fischer of The Rowland Institute at Harvard University has revealed that the nanopropellers will mimic the corkscrew motion of flagella, the structures some bacteria use to swim through water.
He and his colleague Ambarish Ghosh have revealed that their nanopropellers are made of glass.
The researhcers further revealed that each of them has a spherical head 200 to 300 nanometres across and a corkscrew-shaped tail 1 to 2 micrometres long - less than one-tenth the length of a human sperm.
Ghosh and Fischer covered a silicon wafer with glass beads to make these propellers, before depositing a vapour of silicon dioxide onto them.
While doing so they spun the wafer, causing the silicon dioxide to form corkscrew-shaped tails on each bead. Finally, once the silicon dioxide had solidified they covered one side of the nanopropellers with cobalt.
Ghosh and Fischer say that the nanopropellers can be steered precisely.
"We control the coils that give rise to the magnetic field. By changing the magnetic field in three dimensions we can steer and propel the propellers," New Scientist quoted Fischer as saying.
The team have shown that a nanopropeller can push a silica bead over 1000 times larger than itself. They believe that their work may revolutionise drug delivery to specific areas of the body via the bloodstream, or even to conduct surgery.