Scientists at Rice University's Richard E. Smalley Institute for Nanoscale Science and Technology are reporting the development of a "nanodragster" that measures only 1/50,000th the width of a human hair. The research may speed the course toward development of a new generation of futuristic molecular machines.
The vehicle (pictured above to the left) resembles a hot-rod in shape (right) and can outperform previous nano-sized vehicles. In fact, it was the same Rice team that developed the world's first nanocar-- essentially a 4 by 3 nanometer arrangement of complex molecules with buckyball wheels (spheres created with 60 carbon atoms) that made it behave like a vehicle. The tiny car scooted around a gold surface when exposed to heat or an electric field gradient.
But it had some drawbacks. The scientists had limited control of the car's movement and the nanoscopic resolution tools available at the time (2005) for studying the car's range of motions and capabilities were also constrained.
The new hot-rod--about half that size of the nanocar--delivers a performance boost by addressing some of these problems. The front end has a smaller axle and wheels made of special materials that roll easier. The rear wheels sport a longer axle but are still made of buckyballs, which provide strong surface grip. According to the scientists, these changes result in a "nanodragster" that can operate at lower temperatures than a regular nanocar and possibly has has better agility, paving the way for better molecular machines.
Such nano-machines may one day be used to transport cargo such as drugs or for manufacturing computer circuits and other electronic components.
James Tour, Kevin Kelly and colleagues detail their research in; "Molecular Machinery: Synthesis of a “Nanodragster", a report published in ACS' Organic Letters.