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.
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.