X-Files 'Cyborg' Nanobots Could Help Find Water on Mars

Thursday, 09 April 2015 - 10:40AM
Science of Sci-Fi
Space
Mars
Thursday, 09 April 2015 - 10:40AM
X-Files 'Cyborg' Nanobots Could Help Find Water on Mars
In the X-Files episode, "S.R. 819," Walter Skinner is infected with a seemingly deadly bioengineered disease that is revealed to be thousands of nanobots wreaking havoc on his system. Now, scientists have created microscopic robots that are "similar" to the nanobots seen on The X-Files, although they hope to use them for less nefarious applications, everything from food storage to finding water in space.

X-Files Cyborg Nanobots Could Help Us Find Water on Mars

[Credit: Vikas Berry/ University of Illinois at Chicago]



The bots are essentially mechanized spores, or spores that are outfitted with electrodes and combined with quantum dots made of graphene, a two-dimensional, one-atom-thick sheet of carbon that has been hailed by scientists as a "wonder material," and the thinnest and strongest material known to humankind. When there are changes in humidity around the carbon-equipped spore, it either contracts or expands, which alters their electrons' movement through the graphene quantum dots. The result is a half-organic "cytobot" that is capable of extremely sensitive detection.

X-Files Cyborg Nanobots Could Help Us Find Water on Mars

[Credit: Vikas Berry/ University of Illinois at Chicago]



The nanobots on the X-Files were similar, in the sense that they were carbon robots that could multiply as though they were organic. "I'm really, really fascinated about this [X-Files episode] because it's kind of close to what I'm doing here," co-author Vikas Berry told The Washington Post.

Although the primary difference, he clarified, is that his nanobots actually have an organic component. As a result, it may be more accurate to call them "cyborgs" than plain "robots": "A cyborg would be something where biomachinery is interfaced with a device, where you bring both components together and bring out the best in both fields. There have been a lot of science fiction movies and cartoons about cyborgs. I actually did a search on Google images and I saw a lot of pictures of cyborgs which were half human, half machines. There is just a wide variety of science fiction stories about such systems and the fact that we were able to do that at micron scale is really fascinating."

X-Files Cyborg Nanobots Could Help Us Find Water on Mars

[Credit: Vikas Berry/ University of Illinois at Chicago]



And where the X-Files robots were programmed to make Skinner gravely ill, Berry believes that these cyborg nanobots could interact with the body in a similar manner to fight disease. "Nature is just rich in its functionality. There are several kinds of cells in the human body - bacteria, spores, yeast - all sorts of organisms out there [that could be used to make nanobots]."

The nanobots could have a wide variety of applications, from preventing food from spoiling to preserving great works of art. But possibly the most exciting is the potential for an application in astrobiology, as they could be extremely useful for detecting water on other planets. "Finding water on Mars, finding water on other planets, or detecting any small leakages in space shuttles when they go into outer space," Berry said. "You need very sensitive technology for those applications. This sensor would be perfect."
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