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San Antonio Engineers 'Officially Amazing' After Building World's Smallest Medical Robot

Bonnie Petrie
Texas Public Radio
UTSA engineering professors Ruyan Guo, on left, and Amar Bhalla display their Guinness World Records certificate confirming the medical robots made in their lab are the tiniest on Earth.

The Guinness Book of World Records has acknowledged medical robots made at the University of Texas at San Antonio are the tiniest medical robots in the world.

UTSA engineering professors Ruyan Guo and Amar Bhalla have been honored many times in their careers, but no honor is quite like this.

"They said, 'You're now officially amazing,’ ” Guo said.

The medical robots — created by Soutik Betal under their guidance in UTSA’s Multifunctional Electronics Materials and Devices Research Laboratory — have a thickness of .0001 of a strand of hair.

Credit UTSA
Images of the tiny robot, which cannot be seen with the naked eye. It's made up of a magnetic core and a shell.

"It looks spherical-like," Guo said. "It's like a little tiny ball, but it is a little bit oval so it's not quite exactly spherical. You don't see the inside but if you imagine the inside there is a cubic shaped magnetic core."

What do these tiny UTSA robots do? Some can deliver medicine to a cancer patient with cancer extreme precision.

"This one can enter our individual biological cells so we can target what kind of cell it goes in and what kind of cell it will leave alone,” Guo said. “So it's a targeted drug delivery at a cell level."

Bhalla likened the robots to mail carriers delivering medicine to cells through tiny openings.

"They take the mail and go to the house — wherever it is infected or any bad cells are — and the slot opens on the tissues. It delivers the drugs,” Bhalla said.

Credit Bonnie Petrie / Texas Public Radio
Texas Public Radio
UTSA professor of electrical and computer engineering Ruyan Guo explained how the tiny medical robots work.

These too-small-to-see nano-robots can be guided remotely by an electromagnetic field.

"Those nano-robots with their size and design will respond to a given frequency," Guo said.

Bhalla added, "You can steer wherever you want and you can do whatever you want."

While the work was published this year in the journal Scientific Reports, Guo and Bhalla agreed being in Guinness is kind of a thrill.

They said being included in such a mainstay of pop-culture is exposing materials and electrical engineering, as well as the potential of nanotechnology, to a whole new audience.

Bonnie Petrie can be reached at bonnie@tpr.org or on Twitter @kbonniepetrie