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Wednesday, November 9, 2011
Nanoscale car

Just a couple of months after nanoengineers at Tufts University developed an 18-atom single-molecule electric motor, researchers from the University of Twente in the Netherlands have gone one better: They’ve made a car, and again using just a single molecule.

To create the vehicle, Tibor Kudernac and colleagues crafted a molecule with a long body and four “paddle” (wheel) features attached at each corner. The molecule was created with a bottom-up process, where each part of the molecule is gently slotted together. By applying tiny amounts of electricity with a scanning tunneling microscope (STM) to the finished vehicle, the wheels are forced to make a quarter turn. The wheels naturally take another quarter turn to restore equilibrium — and then the STM starts the process all over again.

The end result is very slow forward movement — six nanometers per 10 electric pulses — and the nanocar can only be controlled in a high-vacuum, near-absolute-zero temperatures as ambient energy results in the car moving around on its own. It is an electric vehicle made from just a (very tiny) handful of atoms, though — and yes, it could be used to carry tiny loads of cargo. According to one of the team members, Karl-Heinz Earnst, the next step is to “put some cars at the back and pull them along,” just like a train.

And what do you put in the cars? Pharmaceuticals, generally. The idea is that — one day, when near-freezing vacuums aren’t required — you could drive anti-cancer drugs to a tumor. The most significant part of this discovery, though, are the wheels — which are ultimately tiny motors. If we’re ever going to live in a world where nanobots are at our beck and call, we need tiny motors with infinitesimal power requirements — and that’s exactly what this tiny car is.

Read more at BBC or Nature

1 comment:

  1. That's pretty cool, but I'm pretty sure it would easy be overtaken by an ATP powered Myosin protein moving along Actin


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