Light engine drives nanocar

In follow-on work to last year’s invention of a single-molecule car (see www.laserfocusworld.com/articles/252650), chemists at Rice University (Houston, TX) have produced the first motorized nanocar.

Jun 1st, 2006

In follow-on work to last year’s invention of a single-molecule car (see www.laserfocusworld.com/articles/252650), chemists at Rice University (Houston, TX) have produced the first motorized nanocar. The car’s light-powered motor rotates in one direction, pushing the car along like a paddlewheel. “Everything that’s produced through biology-from the tallest redwood to largest whale-is built one molecule at a time,” said lead researcher James Tour. “Nanocars and other synthetic transporters may prove to be a suitable alternative for bottom-up systems where biological methods aren’t practical.”

The nanocar consists of a rigid chassis and four alkyne axles that spin freely and swivel independently of one another. Four buckyball wheels were used in the original version of the nanocar drained energy from the motor and were replaced with spherical molecules of carbon, hydrogen, and boron called p-carborane. Initial tests in a bath of toluene solvent found that the motor rotates as designed when struck by light. Follow-up tests are under way to determine whether the motorized car can be driven across a flat surface. The nanocars, which measure just 3 by 4 nm, are about the same width as a strand of DNA but much shorter. About 20,000 of these nanocars could be parked side-by-side across the diameter of a human hair. Contact James Tour at tour@rice.edu.

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