February 13, 2004 | David F. Coppedge

Your Internal Motors Can Run Nanotech

In each cell in your body, and in that of every living thing, there exists a tiny motor named ATP synthase that Science News1 calls “the ultimate molecular machine.”  It converts electrical to chemical energy, writes Alexandra Goho, “with amazing efficiency.”  Now, Japanese have harnessed some of these motors (only 12 millionths of a millimeter high) to power artificial machines.  They attached hundreds of the motors to a glass surface and attached little magnetic beads to the rotor part.  With an electromagnet, they induced them to spin, and were able to make them rotate both clockwise and counterclockwise.


1Alexandra Goho, “Nature’s tiniest rotor runs like clockwork,” Science News, Week of Feb. 7, 2004; Vol. 165, No. 6, p. 94; see also article by Jessica Gorman, “Nanotech Switch: Strategy controls minuscule motor,” Science News, Week of Nov. 9, 2002; Vol. 162, No. 19.

Biochemists and nanotechnologists are rightly fascinated by these nanoscopic machines, but strangely silent about where they came from.  They want to know what they can do with them, but where did they come from?  They hope they can borrow them for all kinds of nanodevices, but where did they come from?
    Suppose we were members of a Star Trek crew from a distant galaxy, and had just landed on Mars.  We find this little rover with solar panels and wheels and instruments, and all we can think about is how we can play with it.  Wouldn’t some sentient being on the crew be thinking, Where did it come from?
Exercise: if aliens found Spirit or Opportunity on Mars, would they be justified in inferring intelligent design for its origin, even if they knew nothing about the designers?  Why or why not?  If scientists found an ATP synthase motor in the desert, but instead of being nanoscopic it was the size of a cement mixer, would they be justified in thinking it had evolved from the sand?  Support your answers.
    We’ve had many previous headlines on ATP Synthase.  You can start at the 09/18/2003 article and work back through the links for more information.

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