Doctors could soon ‘deliver’ medicines directly to a part of the human body to treat diseases with the help of submarines the size of a molecule.

Researchers from Rice University in the U.S. developed small submarines, also called nanosubmarines, with a motor powered by ultraviolet light. They are composed of a single molecule of only 244 atoms that travel with a tail-like propeller moving at about 18 nanometres in every full revolution.

Ultraviolet light allows the motor of the nanosubmarine to run over a million revolutions per minute (RPM). With a constant ultraviolet power source, researchers have found that the submarines can travel at a top speed of one inch per second in the body.

“These are the fastest-moving molecules ever seen in solution,” James Tour, a chemist from Rice University, said in a press release. The study was published in the journal Nano Letters.

The nanosubmarines, to deliver cargoes to a target area, have to travel through solutions crowded with moving molecules of similar sizes, much like moving through crosstown traffic, reports Science Alert.

“This is akin to a person walking across a basketball court with 1,000 people throwing basketballs at him,” Tour said. However, researchers are unable to steer the submarines yet, although the molecular motors have the potential to drive the submarines through the solutions.

Researchers are aiming to make the nanosubmarines diffuse at a greater speed to effectively deliver microscopic cargoes in the human body.

“There’s a path forward,” said lead author Victor García-López. “This is the first step, and we’ve proven the concept. Now we need to explore opportunities and potential applications.”

Contact the writer at or tell us what you think below