How do you make a nanodevice move? Add some light. No, really.

A nanomotor is a molecular or nanoscale device capable of converting energy into movement. The motors are so small they can fit inside human cells. The benefits of engineering these kinds of motors in the future of biomedicine and robotics might be unfathomable.

The University of Texas at Austin is abuzz with the news that their mechanical engineers have — once again — achieved a breakthrough for nanotechnology.

Source: Cockrell School of Engineering

They have created a method for selecting and switching mechanical motions of nanomotors among multiple modes with visible light as the stimulus. The engineers are confident their findings can factor into the next generation of controllable nanoelectromechanical and nanorobotic devices.

The engineers liken light as a stimulus to a knob that can select the different modes of mechanical motions. The devices convert energy into movement at the cellular and molecular levels. The engineers utilized a laser for their testing.

The findings were published in the journal ‘Science Advances’ with the title: ‘Visible light-gated reconfigurable rotary actuation of electrical nanomotors’ Utilizing light the engineers succeeded in acceleration rotations of nanomotors, stopping rotation of nanomotors, and the reversal of rotation of nanomotors.

Donglei Fan, associate professor at the Cockrell School of Engineering’s Department of Mechanical Engineering and lead author on the project told UT News:

“The ability to alter the behavior of nanodevices in this way - from passive to active - opens the door to the design of autonomous and intelligent machines at nanoscale. We successfully tested our hypothesis based on the newly discovered effect through a practical application. We were able to distinguish semiconductor and metal nanomaterials just by observing their different mechanical motions in response to light with a conventional microscope. This distinction was made in a noncontact and nondestructive manner compared to the prevailing destructive contact-based electric measurements.”

This was not the first time the team made giant strides forward with nanomotors. In 2014, the team designed the smallest and fastest nanomotors. Their latest experiment included utilizing the light sources, an electric field and semiconductor nanoparticles in a water-based solution.


Works Cited

“First-Ever Method for Controlling Nanomotors Is Developed by UT Engineers.” UT News | The University of Texas at Austin, 18 Sept. 2018,

The Engineering Institute of Technology (EIT) is dedicated to ensuring our students receive a world-class education and gain skills they can immediately implement in the workplace upon graduation. Our staff members uphold our ethos of honesty and integrity, and we stand by our word because it is our bond. Our students are also expected to carry this attitude throughout their time at our institute, and into their careers.