Watch tiny swimming magnetic robots suck up uranium in a droplet of radioactive wastewater

Don't get too excited, though – we need quintillions of these things


Video Scientists have built microscopic primitive robots that can swim in wastewater and remove radioactive uranium, in the hopes that they can one day be used to clean up nuclear spills for humans.

The team of researchers at the University of Chemistry and Technology and the Institute of Organic Chemistry and Biochemistry in Prague, Czech Republic, fabricated the self-propelled micro-bots out of tiny metal-organic frameworks consisting of magnetic ferroferric oxide, and catalytic platinum, nanoparticles. Each of the cylindrical workers had a diameter fifteen times smaller than the width of a human hair.

When these simple machines were added to a milliliter drop of solution containing uranyl ions – each consisting of uranium and two oxygen atoms – the robots managed to sweep up 96 per cent of the radioactive material in an hour.

You can watch them in action below.

Youtube Video

They swim around with the help of hydrogen peroxide, Martin Pumera, lead author of the research, published in the Journal of American Chemical Society, explained to The Register on Wednesday.

laser

Geiger counters are so last summer. Lasers can detect radioactive material too, y'know

READ MORE

“Platinum is a catalyst for the decomposition of hydrogen peroxide into water and oxygen, which results in the production of bubbles to power the [robot’s] motion,” he said. Each one can move a distance of up to 60 times their own length per second.

Since they’re partly made out of iron, the nanoparticles can be collected from the solution using magnets. The build up of uranium on their surfaces was then scraped off before they were returned to the wastewater to be reused.

All the experiments are a proof-of-concept, obviously. A tiny drop of solution simulating nuclear wastewater doesn't contain the same amount of uranium found in a full-blown radiation disaster. At the moment, each robot can only collect a tiny 0.0776 nanograms of uranium. It would probably take quintillions (1018) of these tiny robots to be effective in real life, Pumera believed.

“We plan to test [the robots] on real nuclear waste in the near future, but there is still more work needed before this step. We will keep working on this kind of [robot] to improve their performance,” he concluded. ®

Similar topics


Other stories you might like

  • Tencent Cloud slaps googly eyes on a monitor, says it can care for oldies
    It's called 'i-Care' and it screams 'I don't, actually'

    Tencent Cloud has released an odd robot-adjacent device designed to provide telemedicine services.

    The effort is called i-Care and is the result of a tie up with USA-based IT services Millennium Technology Services (MTS)'s subsidiary Invincible Technology. The two companies set out to create "a digital solution that aims to improve patients' experience and quality of life as well as draw patients, families and caregivers closer than ever."

    "Customers' habits and expectations have evolved dramatically over the last few years across various industries including the medical and healthcare field, driven by the further emergence of digital technologies and cloud computing," said Tencent Cloud in a canned statement.

    Continue reading
  • Tata Consultancy Services to create touchy feely 'Internet of Actions'
    Gets a grip on tech from Japanese startup to make it work

    The Japanese outpost of Indian services giant Tata Consultancy Services has revealed it is working on the "Internet of Actions" – an effort to bring the sense of touch to the internet.

    Tata has paired with a Japanese upstart from Keio University, Motion Lib, to spearhead the endeavor.

    TCS said it will eventually deliver a "new social infrastructure" by commercializing Motion Lib tech. But first and more practically, the company will create a demonstration environment for "real haptics" technology at its Digital Continuity Experience Center (DCEC) showroom.

    Continue reading
  • Amazon shows off robot warehouse workers that won't complain, quit, unionize...
    Mega-corp insists it's all about 'people and technology working safely and harmoniously together'

    Amazon unveiled its first "fully autonomous mobile robot" and other machines designed to operate alongside human workers at its warehouses.

    In 2012 the e-commerce giant acquired Kiva Systems, a robotics startup, for $775 million. Now, following on from that, Amazon has revealed multiple prototypes powered by AI and computer-vision algorithms, ranging from robotic grippers to moving storage systems, that it has developed over the past decade. The mega-corporation hopes to put them to use in warehouses one day, ostensibly to help staff lift, carry, and scan items more efficiently. 

    Its "autonomous mobile robot" is a disk-shaped device on wheels, and resembles a Roomba. Instead of hoovering crumbs, the machine, named Proteus, carefully slots itself underneath a cart full of packages and pushes it along the factory floor. Amazon said Proteus was designed to work directly with and alongside humans and doesn't have to be constrained to specific locations caged off for safety reasons. 

    Continue reading

Biting the hand that feeds IT © 1998–2022