(UPI) Researchers in the Netherlands said they used an electron microscope and a high-definition 3D printer to create the world's smallest boat, which measures just 30 micrometers in length.
The Leiden University team said they used the microscope and 3D printer to create a version of the "Benchy" boat, a structure often used to test the effectiveness of 3D printers. The boat is about one-third of the thickness of a human hair.
"We focused a laser inside a droplet," Leiden University physicist Daniela Kraft told CNN.
"If we move the laser through the droplet, we write the structure that we want," she said. For example, if we move it in a helix, we are writing a helix.
In addition to the mini Benchy, which the researchers said is the world's smallest boat, the team also experimented with other microscopic shapes including a spiky sphere, spiral, helix, trimer and the titular starship from Star Trek: Voyager.
The experiments were part of the researchers' study of microswimmers -- small particles that can be followed by a microscope as they move through fluid. Kraft said synthetic microswimmers could have a number of practical applications, including delivering medicine to specific areas inside the human body.
"We hope to learn about what is now a good design principle for creating a little drug delivery vehicle -- if you have a little particle that goes to a specific part of the body to deliver drugs, then it has to propel itself, and it may have to deal with the environment in your body, which is very complex," Kraft said.Copyright 2020 by United Press International