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Vienna researchers unveil world’s smallest racing car

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(Credit: Vienna University of Technology)

Rising gas prices got you down? You might start thinking about downsizing your vehicle.

But we're pretty sure that this particular car is going to be impractical for most families. At just 0.011" (0.285mm) long, it's about the size of a grain of sand -- and the only place it's breaking speed limits is in construction time.

Under four minutes, to be exact. When you consider that creating complex nano-scale structures is usually a painstaking process taking hours or even days, that's a serious breakthrough.

It's the work of a team of researchers at Austria's Vienna University of Technology, who made the car by focusing a high-precision laser beam onto a liquid resin. Exposure to the high-intensity light causes the resin to solidify, and by moving the laser, the team can lay down microscopic tracks of hardened plastic. They've also used their method to make miniscule models of London's Tower Bridge and Vienna's St. Stephen's Cathedral.

"The technology itself is quite well known in the science arena, but the problem was that it was always extremely slow," Prof Jurgen Stampfl told BBC News. "Using our set-up and materials, we can speed that up by a factor of 500 or in some cases 1,000 times."

While tiny toys are good for making headlines, the new tech has practical applications aplenty. The Vienna team is working on creating resins suitable for use in the human body, hoping that structures created in the same way as the racing car could be used as scaffolds for reconstructing bones, or even softer tissue like muscle or cartilage.

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