23-Jul-2013 - University of California, San Diego

Potato-powered micromotors

A team of scientists from the United States and China have found a natural power source for self-propelling micromotors, using enzyme rich potato tissue.

Potatoes are rich in catalase, an enzyme commonly used in self-propelling micromotors. These are traditionally built by coating one half of a micro-pellet with a metal catalyst or enzyme which, when placed in a solution of hydrogen peroxide, catalyses oxygen production to form asymmetric streams of bubbles that propel the pellet through the liquid.

The scientists mimicked a traditional micromotor by coating one half of a 2 x 1 mm potato cylinder with epoxy creating an asymmetric distribution of catalase. The catalase in the exposed potato tissue catalysed bubble production and propelled the potato pellet at speeds of up to 5.12 mm per second.

Self-propelled micromotors have potential applications in environmental remediation, including pesticide and nerve agent decontamination, where bubble-powered motors could be used to capture and destroy contaminants. The major advantage of these potato-powered motors is that they use catalase in its natural and highly stable form, avoiding expensive purification procedures. At current prices, over 500, 000 potato motors can be made for only one US dollar.

 

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