Visible light–gated reconfigurable rotary actuation of electric nanomotors

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Science Advances  14 Sep 2018:
Vol. 4, no. 9, eaau0981
DOI: 10.1126/sciadv.aau0981


Highly efficient and widely applicable working mechanisms that allow nanomaterials and devices to respond to external stimuli with controlled mechanical motions could make far-reaching impact to reconfigurable, adaptive, and robotic nanodevices. We report an innovative mechanism that allows multifold reconfiguration of mechanical rotation of semiconductor nanoentities in electric (E) fields by visible light stimulation. When illuminated by light in the visible-to-infrared regime, the rotation speed of semiconductor Si nanowires in E-fields can instantly increase, decrease, and even reverse the orientation, depending on the intensity of the applied light and the AC E-field frequency. This multifold rotational reconfiguration is highly efficient, instant, and facile. Switching between different modes can be simply controlled by the light intensity at an AC frequency. We carry out experiments, theoretical analysis, and simulations to understand the underlying principle, which can be attributed to the optically tunable polarization of Si nanowires in an aqueous suspension and an external E-field. Finally, leveraging this newly discovered effect, we successfully differentiate semiconductor and metallic nanoentities in a noncontact and nondestructive manner. This research could inspire a new class of reconfigurable nanoelectromechanical and nanorobotic devices for optical sensing, communication, molecule release, detection, nanoparticle separation, and microfluidic automation.

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