Jinxing Li

Nanoengineering Ph.D. student Jinxing Li, top prize winner of Research Expo 2015

Motors in a

Micromotors for drug
delivery go for a spin.

Tiny motors made primarily of zinc could one day deliver drugs both safely and effectively to specific locations inside the human body. Jacobs School nanoengineering researchers recently demonstrated an important step in this direction — the first published example of artificial micromotors deployed inside a living animal. Jinxing Li, a nanoengineering graduate student at the Jacobs School, won the grand prize at Research Expo 2015 for his research poster on this topic.

The micromotors deliver and release cargo within the stomachs of mice. The key to the movement of these motors lies in their zinc bodies, which react with stomach acid to


Micromotors are propelled by hydrogen bubbles
and swim to the stomach wall

stomach wall

generate a stream of hydrogen bubbles that propel the motors and enable them to swim around the stomach. In recent experiments, the motors traveled at a speed of 60 micrometers per second for up to three minutes. As an added bonus, the zinc motors are biodegradable. They gradually dissolve in stomach acid, releasing their cargo to the stomach wall and leaving no toxic traces behind.

“We have been developing this technology for almost three years and this is the first time we put a nanorobot in a live animal and showed that it could effectively deliver payloads to a particular location,” said Li. “This is a very exciting example showing that nanorobots can really work in vivo and benefit health science.”

Li is part of a research collaboration between the nanoengineering labs of professor and chair Joseph Wang and professor Liangfang Zhang. The research, which was first published online December 2014 in the journal ACS Nano, has generated global media attention

This project was just one of more than 200 posters presented at Research Expo 2015. The five other departmental poster winners explored heart tissues on a chip; analyses of social media

posts to prevent an increase in HIV infections; a W-band spatial power combiner with potential for millimeter wave imaging and enabling long distance communications among unmanned vehicles; resorbable scaffolds for bone implants; and testing of a new method to retrofit soft-story buildings to make them earthquake safe.

“You need to communicate your knowledge and wisdom to others. If humanity doesn’t get behind it, it’s not going anywhere.”
— Albert P. Pisano, Dean of the Jacobs School

During the Research Expo poster session, student presenters are judged on the quality of their work and how well they articulate the significance of their research to society. This dual challenge is a key component of the Jacobs School’s mission to develop engineers with both the technical knowledge and leadership to drive tomorrow’s innovation economy.

Microscopic view of the zinc micromotors

Microscopic view of the zinc micromotors

5 μm

“There is an important lesson in all of this,” said Jacobs School Dean Albert P. Pisano at the event’s awards ceremony. “You need to communicate your knowledge and wisdom to others. If humanity doesn’t get behind it, it’s not going anywhere.”

Read about all the winning posters and search poster abstracts online. Save the date: Research Expo 2016 is on April 16.

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