EU funds help: Nanorobots come to life thanks to European funding (VIDEO)
19. 3. 2021
Excursion to the realm of the invisible. This is the only way to introduce this article. We are talking about nanorobots that will own the future in many spheres of human life. The University of Chemistry and Technology Prague (UCT) has an international team of top chemists who deal with nanorobots and are led by RNDr. Martin Pumera, Ph.D. A big role is played in this by the European Union.
Nanotechnology penetrates the lives of each of us. It is a scientific discipline that deals with the research and use of nanomaterial. That is a substance with at least one of its dimensions smaller than 100 nanometers, which corresponds to approximately one thousandth of a human hair.
Such an ultra-thin material has enormous possibilities of use in various fields. A surface treated with nanocoat is resistant, for example, to liquid which runs down such surface in a so-called lotus flower effect. But nanoparticles are capable of much more. Nanorobots and microrobots are another stage in the development of nanotechnologies. The team led by Dr. Martin Pumera, head of the excellent research Center for Advanced Functional Nanorobots, is dedicated to nanorobots at UCT.
ENLARGED BLOOD CELL IS THE SIZE OF A TENNIS BALL
To imagine the realm of nanorobots: When a hair is cut across and enlarged to a thickness of one meter, the red blood cell is the size of a tennis ball and the nanorobot is a hair on that tennis ball. The project Advanced Functional Nanorobots was launched at the end of 2016 and will end in 2022. Its goal has been to create an excellent team with international participation, which carries out research in a new category of nanotechnologies - autonomous nanorobots usable mainly in medicine and environmental remediation.
The seven-year research will contribute to the development of international cooperation in the field of nanotechnologies and to building links with foreign research partners with the intention of participating together in prestigious international grant competitions. The project will cost a total of almost CZK 220 million and the European Union will contribute CZK 157 million under the Operational Programme Research, Development and Education. Dr. Martin Pumera was the one who managed to obtain the subsidy for the University.
After several working stays around the world and seven years as an associate professor at a university in Singapore, he decided to transfer his know-how to the Czech environment and became the grant leader. "Our team has fifteen members, a third are Czechs, a third are my colleagues I pulled over from Singapore, and I have experts from France, Spain, Iran, or Peru," says Martin Pumera. Without a European grant, the project would be literally unthinkable. The funding pays for laboratory equipment, chemicals and salaries.
FLOCKS OF NANOROBOTS CAN COOPERATE
The use of nanorobots is really huge. For example, the above-mentioned medicine: in layman's terms, if a robot is well programmed, it can find the problematic place in the body and deliver medication to it. But it can also remove tissue from such place and transfer it after pulling it out with a magnet. "We can put a nanorobot in a pill, or they can drill through the eye. We create robots for dentistry to clean root canals, which is a great project with Czech physicians," says Martin Pumera.
Clinical trials are currently being performed on animals. When asked about possible application to humans, Dr. Pumera ponders. "It is a difficult question. In twenty years? However, we do not only focus on humans, we cooperate in the development of nanorobotic treatment of animals, and a similar project exists for the treatment of flowers.” As part of its environmental use, a nanorobot can serve as pollution warning indicator, or it can deliver substances required to eliminate the pollution to the affected place. “Of course, one nanorobot is not enough to do that, we are talking about flocks comprising millions of nanorobots. It's like with people, one person won't build a skyscraper," Dr. Pumera explains.
Two years remain till the end of the project, and its progress to date has far outstripped even the bold expectations of the researchers. "That’s good. Many ask me what will be in ten, twenty years. I don't know. If I knew, I would do it now, because I would be ahead. You know, we're dealing with problems that we wouldn't have thought of three years ago. And that's great. However, in two years the grant will be over. I would like to continue working with the European Union on another project that will build on the current one. It is clear to me that this project would not work without a European grant. That's just the way it is," Martin Pumera concludes.
The world of nanotechnologies can only be seen on computer screens; nanorobots are not visible to the naked eye, although in practice they are capable of hardly believable things. However, we can see the devices inside which nanorobots are created. The research takes place in the Prague campus of the University of Chemistry and Technology.
Photo: Archive of the University of Chemistry and Technology, Prague