What’s a Pirate’s Favorite Nanotechnology? Acoustic microcannons!

First, some background info on micro/nano scale, since we’ll be talking about microcannons and nanobullets.

1 meter = 1,000,000 micrometers

1 meter = 1,000,000,000 nanomaters

Microcannon = 5 micrometers = the thickness of a strand of spider silk OR the thickness of the head of a human sperm = even smaller than the thickness of a human hair

Nanobullet = 100 nanometers = 1 micrometer = slightly smaller than the HIV virus

This poor guy thinks he holds a world record for the world's tiniest working cannon. WRONG.
Awww, this poor guy thinks he’ll hold on to his Guinness record for the world’s tiniest working cannon. WRONG.
Photo Credit: http://geelongindy.com.au

The Problem

  • For a long time, researchers have wanted to create a real live “magic bullet” that would be able shoot through tissue to deliver drugs to treat diseases.
  • Not only did a “magic bullet” not exist, but there was also no way to shoot a “magic bullet” even if it was real.
  • In order to deliver drugs to diseased tissue, a “magic bullet” would have to be very small (think micro/nano scale).
Nope. Not this magic bullet. Photo Credit: Amazon
Nope. Not this magic bullet.
Photo Credit: Amazon

The Study

  • Scientists started by making a membrane with tiny holes in it (think of your skin as the membrane and your pores as the holes).
  • They electrodeposited or “sprayed” graphene oxide and then gold to coat the inside of the membrane holes.
  • The graphene oxide and gold hardened to form “microcannons”.
  • They then “loaded” the microcannons with silica nanobullets and a chemical (perfluorocarbon) to act as a propellant (think of the perfluorocarbon as the gunpowder in a pirate-sized cannon).
  • The scientists used ultrasonic waves (high frequency sound waves) to vaporize the perfluorocarbon.
  • As the perfluorocarbon was vaporizing, it made tiny gas bubbles that got larger very very quickly.
  • These fast-expanding bubbles were what pushed the nanobullets out of the microcannon, while the scientists all stood around going “pew pew pew!”.*
  • They took video, as well as images using a scanning electron microscope to see that the microcannons were working.
A before and after of the microcannon firing nanobullets. *Pew*Pew*Pew* Photo Credit: Fernando Soto 2015
A before and after of the microcannon firing nanobullets. *Pew*Pew*Pew*
Photo Credit: Fernando Soto 2015
  • As a control for their experiment (what they compared it to), they tried firing the nanobullets without using the perfluorocarbon propellant.
  • This time, it did not work and no tiny bullets went flying. This reassured them that the perfluorocarbon was what caused the nanobullets shoot out of the microcannons.
Before and after of the microcannons being pulsed with ultrasound waves, with and without perfluorocarbon (PFC) Photo Credit: Fernando Soto 2015
Before and after of the microcannons being pulsed with ultrasound waves, with and without perfluorocarbon (PFC) Photo Credit: Fernando Soto 2015
  • Because the scientists wanted to show that the microcannons and nanobullets could be used to shoot through human tissue, they tried shooting fluorescent nanobullets into artificial tissue.
  • They showed that it worked, high-fived each other, and then proceeded to have the world’s tiniest paint ball war in their lab.**

The Takeaway

  • This research could lead the way for actually using microcannons to fire nanobullets made of life-saving drugs into diseased human tissue.
  • This would be an effective and efficient way to treat diseases.
Look! Tiny guns with tiny bullets being used to cure a disease! No longer science fiction, y'all. SCIENCE!
Look! Tiny guns with tiny bullets being used to cure a disease! No longer science fiction, y’all. SCIENCE!
  • Science is freaking awesome.
  • We should all be scientists so we can play with microcannons.
  • The next logical step is to create micropirates. For micro sea battles using microcannons that fire nanobullets. You’re welcome for the awesome idea, scientists.
This has absolutely nothing to do with microcannons, but it's a science pirate joke, and I will not promise that you'll never see it again in future posts. Yup.
This has absolutely nothing to do with microcannons, but it’s a science pirate joke, and I will not promise that you’ll never see it again in future posts. Yup.

 

*Ok, they probably didn’t really make that noise, but I totally would if it had been me…

**Ok, again, totally just kidding. But in my dreams, this is what happens.

Arrrrrr you as excited about nanotechnology as I am? Plunge into the depths of science and plunder ye old original scientific journal article here: http://pubs.acs.org/doi/abs/10.1021/acsnano.5b07080

Citations for micro- and nano-scale comparisons:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/1_micrometre

https://books.google.co.uk/books?id=51ozlZRBvQwC&pg=SL24-PA111&hl=en#v=onepage&q&f=false

Here’s to fun, funny, and science-filled 2016! See you next year ;).

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Author: Emily

I started Rise and Sci because I love science, I love teaching people new things and I want to help build a greater public understanding of all things science. My goal is to take hard to understand concepts and make them accessible to everyone- all in a fun an interesting format!

1 thought on “What’s a Pirate’s Favorite Nanotechnology? Acoustic microcannons!”

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