More Science See Inside How to Build Nanotech Motors Catalytic engines enable tiny swimmers to harness fuel from their environment and overcome the weird physics of the microscopic world By Thomas E. Mallouk and Ayusman Sen KENN BROWN MONDOLITHIC STUDIOS (MICROSCOPIC ROBOTS) Imagine that we could make cars, aircraft and submarines as small as bacteria or molecules. Microscopic robotic surgeons, injected in the body, could locate and neutralize the causes of disease—for example, the plaque inside arteries or the protein deposits that may cause Alzheimer’s disease. And nanomachines—robots having features and components at the nanometer scale—could penetrate the steel beams of bridges or the wings of airplanes, fixing invisible cracks before they propagate and cause catastrophic failures. In recent years chemists have created an array of remarkable molecular-scale structures that could become parts of minute machines. James Tour and his co-workers at Rice University, for instance, have synthesized a molecular-scale car that features as wheels four buckyballs (carbon molecules shaped like soccer balls), 5,000 times as small as a human cell. This is only a preview. Get the rest of this article now! Select an option below: Buy Digital Issue Customer Sign In *You must have purchased this issue or have a qualifying subscription to access this content It has been identified that the institution you are trying to access this article from has institutional site license access to Scientific American on nature.com. Click here to access this article in its entirety through site license access. ADVERTISEMENT Scientific American is a trademark of Scientific American, Inc., used with permission © 2015 Scientific American, a Division of Nature America, Inc. All Rights Reserved.