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Hard Science

Nanomachines Score The 2016 Nobel Prize in Chemistry

They created small motors no bigger than a human hair, and even a nanoscale 'car.'

A trio of European scientists brought home the 2016 Nobel Prize in Chemistry. Jean-Pierre Sauvage, Sir J. Fraser Stoddart and Bernard L. Feringa were awarded 8 million Swedish krona for their work on molecular machines.

The three researches developed molecules with controllable movements, which can perform a task when energy is added. Sauvage, of the University of Strasbourg, was awarded for his work in 1983. He was able to link two ring-shaped molecules together in a paper-chain style, called a catenane. This was built upon by Stoddart of the Northwestern University in USA. He was able to create a molecular wheel – a free-moving molecular ring threaded onto a thin molecular axle, called a rotaxane.

Finally, Feringa of the University of Groningen in the Netherlands was able to create an actual nano-motor, a molecular rotor blade could spin continually in the same direction. Then, the trio created a “car” no wider than a human hair, capable of “driving” across a surface.

The scientists’ spinning nano machines are already being used to create medical micro-robots and self-healing materials that can repair themselves without human intervention. 

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