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.


Nobel Prize For Building A Molecular Motor


It all has to do with “molecular machines” — teeny devices made out of individual atoms — that mark the start of a wave of nano-innovation that could drastically change, well, a LOT. You want transparent solar panels? Tiny, super-efficient nanocomputers? Cancer-killing robots that wander your bloodstream like assassins? Nanotechnology could be the way.



Jean-Pierre Sauvage (Strasbourg University in France) , Sir James Frasier Stoddart, and Bernard L. Feringa — will split the $930,000 prize for their work, including building a “molecular motor,” a light-powered device powerful enough to rotate a glass tube.

The molecular motor is at the same stage as the electric motor was in the 1830s, when scientists displayed various spinning cranks and wheels, unaware that they would lead to electric trains, washing machines, fans, and food processors,” the Nobel committee said in thepress release announcing the prize.

Of course, nanomaterials come with some troubling potential side effects, from extra-sharp nanotubes that could act like asbestos in the lungs to teeny tiny pesticide nanodroplets that might never go away. But the Nobel committee, for one, is betting that these technologies, deployed correctly, have a whole lot of good to offer us.


The Rise Of The NanoRobots

Nanomachines – including nano-sized motors, rockets and even cars – are many orders of magnitude smaller than a human cell, but they have huge promise. In the future, they could deliver drugs anywhere in the body, clean up oil spills and might even be used as artificial muscle cells. Find out more about these molecular machines (and the challenges that nanobot researchers still face) in Reactions’ latest video, produced in collaboration with the University of Nebraska‘s SciPop series.




Can A NanoSwitch Provoke A Macro Motion?

Researchers of the University of Twente‘s MESA+ research institute – Netherlands – have developed spiral ribbons made of molecules, that are able to convert light into complex macroscopic motion. Therefore, they managed to amplify molecular motion and translate it to the macroscopic world. The research, which was inspired by movement in plants, is published in the journal Nature Chemistry.

Over the past decades, chemists have constructed various molecular machines, including molecular tweezers and scissors, and even molecular nanocars. However, the motion of molecular machines is generally limited to the nanoworld only. Amplifying the motion of these systems in such a way that they would affect the macroscopic world consequently remains a major contemporary challenge.
Nathalie KatsonisUniversity of Twente’s MESA+ research institute led by principal researcher Nathalie Katsonis have risen up to this challenge. They developed spiral ribbons containing molecular nanoswitches. These spirals curl, twist, contract or expand under the influence of UV light, and might be used to perform work, for instance by shifting magnets.