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.


Nanoscope Sees Images 100,000 Times Smaller Than A Human Hair

A microscope that produces images a hundred-thousand times smaller than the width of a human hair wasn’t quite enough for Dr David Dowsett. At the Luxembourg Institute of Science and Technology (LIST), Dowsett and his team added a specially designed prototype spectrometer. They say their secondary ion mass spectrometer – or SIMS – analysis tool, is one of the most powerful in the world.

nanoscope list

A human hair is about 50 to 100 microns in diameter. The resolution of our microscope images is half a nanometer and the resolution of our SIMS images is about 10 nanometres. So, that’s about 100,000 times smaller than the diameter of a human hair“, says Dr. David Dowsett, Senior research & Technology Associate at the  Luxembourg Institute of  Science and  Technology (LIST). And it’s attracting interest from big business for it’s immense imaging and chemical mapping capabilities… including from cosmetic companies.  “So when they say ‘this is the science bit’ – that’s actually us. We’ve worked for a least one of the big pharmaceutical companies developing shampoo, so looking at whether the shampoo really penetrates into the hair,” he adds.
The precision tool’s impact could be huge for many industries, including the development of new semiconductors and Lithium ion batteries. It could also play a vital role in the the improvement and development of medicine.
We can follow where those nanoparticles have been uptaken into, for example, human cells. And also we can see whether or not a labelled drug is present within the cell, in the same place as the nanoparticle; so we can really start to test whether a delivery system is effective“, concludes Dowsett. Now he is working with his team on an improved version of the device and investigating possibilities to commercialise the development.


Zoom And Observe Atoms Moving

A new microscope invented at Michigan State University (MSU) allows scientists to zoom in on the movements of atoms and molecules. Electron microscopes allow scientists to see the structure of microorganisms, cells, metals, crystals and other tiny structures that weren’t visible with light microscopes. But while these images have allowed scientists to make great discoveries, the relationship between structure and function could only be estimated because of static images. In the 1990s, researchers added a fourth dimension time – by using a laser to capture images of gaseous molecules as they were reacting.
Now scientists from MSU has brought these “molecular movies” down to the nanoscale level, where the properties of materials begin to change. The work has applications in nanoelectronic technologies and in clean-energy industries.

Michigan MicroscopeA new microscope invented at MSU allows scientists to zoom in on the movements of atoms and molecules
Implementing such a technology within an electron microscope setup allows one to examine crucial functions in nanoscale devices,” Chong-Yu Ruan, MSU associate professor of physics and astronomy said. “The goal is to explore the limits where specific physical, chemical and biological transformations can occur.”
Research team from MSU is one of the few in the world actively developing electron-based imaging technology on the femtosecond timescale. One femtosecond is one-millionth of a billionth of a second – a fundamental timescale that atoms take to perform specific tasks, such as mediating the traffic of electrical charges or participating in the chemical reactions.


Super-Resolution Microscope For NanoStructure

Researchers from Purdue University have found a way to see synthetic nanostructures and molecules using a new type of super-resolution optical microscopy that does not require fluorescent dyes, representing a practical tool for biomedical and nanotechnology research.

Microscope for nanostructureA new type of super-resolution optical microscopy takes a high-resolution image (at right) of graphite “nanoplatelets” about 100 nanometers wide. The imaging system, called saturated transient absorption microscopy, or STAM, uses a trio of laser beams and represents a practical tool for biomedical and nanotechnology research.

Super-resolution optical microscopy has opened a new window into the nanoscopic world,” said Ji-Xin Cheng, an associate professor of biomedical engineering and chemistry at Purdue University.”The diffraction limit represents the fundamental limit of optical imaging resolution,” Cheng said. “Stefan Hell at the Max Planck Institute and others have developed super-resolution imaging methods that require fluorescent labels. Here, we demonstrate a new scheme for breaking the diffraction limit in optical imaging of non-fluorescent species. Because it is label-free, the signal is directly from the object so that we can learn more about the nanostructure.


Ultrapowerful Solar Cells

Ultrapowerful microscopes, computers and solar cells could result from the research on "hyperbolic metamaterials". Scientists from Purdue University have shown how to create the metamaterials without the traditional silver or gold previously required,Using the metals is impractical for industry because of high cost and incompatibility with semiconductor manufacturing processes. The metals also do not transmit light efficiently, causing much of it to be lost. The Purdue researchers replaced the metals with an "aluminum-doped zinc oxide," or AZO.

"This means we can have a completely new material platform for creating optical metamaterials, which offers important advantages," said Alexandra Boltasseva, an assistant professor of electrical and computer engineering."Alternative plasmonic materials such as AZO overcome the bottleneck created by conventional metals in the design of optical metamaterials and enable more efficient devices," Boltasseva adds : "We anticipate that the development of these new plasmonic materials and nanostructured material composites will lead to tremendous progress in the technology of optical metamaterials, enabling the full-scale development of this technology and uncovering many new physical phenomena."