NanoCar Race

The NanoCar Race is an event in which molecular machines compete on a nano-sized racetrack. These “NanoCars” or molecule-cars can have real wheels, an actual chassis…and are propelled by the energy of electric pulses! Nothing is visible to the naked eye, however a unique microscope located in Toulouse (France) will make it possible to follow the race. A genuine scientific prowess and international human adventure, the race is a one-off event, and will be broadcast live on the web, as well as at the Quai des Savoirs, science center in Toulouse.


The NanoCar race takes place on a very small scale, that of molecules and atoms: the nano scale…as in nanometer! A nanometer is a billionth of a meter, or 0.000000001 meters or 10 -9 m. In short, it is 500,000 times thinner then a line drawn by a ball point pen; 30,000 times thinner than the width of a hair; 100 times smaller than a DNA molecule; 4 atoms of silicon lined up next to one another.

A very powerful microscope is necessary to observe molecules and atoms: the scanning tunneling microscope (STM) makes this possible, and it is also responsible for propelling the NanoCars. The scanning tunneling microscope was invented in 1981 by Gerd Binnig and Heinrich Rohrer, and earned them the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1986. The tunnel effect is a phenomenon in quantum mechanics: using a tip and an electric current, the microscope will use this phenomenon to determine the electric conductance between the tip and the surface, in other words the amount of current that is passing through.

nanocar in movement Screening provides an electronic map of the surface and of each atom or molecule placed on it.At the CNRS‘s Centre d’élaboration de matériaux et d’études structurales (CEMES) in Toulouse, it is the one of a kind STM microscope that makes the race possible: the equivalent of four scanning tunneling microscopes, this device is the only one able to simultaneously and independently map four sections of the track in real time, thanks to its four tungsten tips.


Artificial Protein Carries Atoms Across Membranes

Human cells are protected by a largely impenetrable molecular membrane. Now Gevorg Grigoryan, an assistant professor of computer science at Dartmouth College, and researchers from other institutions have built the first artificial transporter protein that carries individual atoms across membranes, opening the possibility of engineering a new class of smart molecules with applications in fields as wide ranging as nanotechnology and medicine.

transport protein 2
Each human cell is surrounded by a lipid membrane, a molecular barrier that serves to contain the cellular machinery and protect it from the surrounding elements. This cellular “skin” is impenetrable to most biological molecules but also presents a conundrum: if chemicals can’t get in or out, how is a cell to receive nutrients (food) and remove unwanted products of metabolism (trash)?

Nature has come up with an elegant solution to this logistical problem — transporter proteins (or transporters). These molecular machines are embedded in the cellular membrane and serve as gatekeepers, allowing specific chemicals to shuttle in and out when needed. Though biologists have known about transporters for many decades, their precise mechanism of action has been elusive.

The study, which has been published in the journal Science, is a milestone in designing and understanding membrane proteins (a PDF is available upon request). The study was conducted by researchers from Dartmouth College, the University of California-San Francisco, Massachusetts Institute of Technology and National Institute of Science Educational and Research in India.


Forging Artificial Atoms

Chad A. Mirkin, a researcher from Northwestern University, has developed a completely new set of building blocks that is based on nanoparticles and DNA. Using these tools, scientists will be able to build — from the bottom up, just as nature does — new and useful structures. Using nanoparticles and DNA, Mirkin has built more than 200 different crystal structures with 17 different particle arrangements. Some of the lattice types can be found in nature, but he also has built new structures that have no naturally occurring mineral counterpart.
artificial atom
We have a new set of building blocks,” Mirkin said. “Instead of taking what nature gives you, we can control every property of the new material we make. We’ve always had this vision of building matter and controlling architecture from the bottom up, and now we’ve shown it can be done.”

Mirkin has presented his research in a session titled “Nucleic Acid-Modified Nanostructures as Programmable Atom Equivalents: Forging a New Periodic Table” at the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) annual meeting in Boston.