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World’s first nano – car race

The race will not exactly be a high-speed chase with hairpin turns. And do not expect to see anything with the naked eye.

Each ultra-miniature car will be built from just hundreds of atoms grouped together to form the engine, body, wheels and pedals. Instead of holding a steering wheel, chemists and physicists will maneuver a microscope equipped with four needle-like metal tips that generate an electric current to propel them across a racecourse made of gold atoms.

It will take the nano-cars at least 36 hours to reach the finish line after covering 100 nanometers – one-thousandth the width of a human hair. There are a couple of 40 and 45 degree turns in the racecourse. The golden surface, cooled to -268°C, on which the nano-cars race, is 50,000 times thinner than a line drawn by a pen.

Beyond competition, the overarching objective is to advance research in the observation and control of molecule-machine. Sponsored by France’s National Center for Scientific Research, the race takes place at one of its laboratories in Toulouse in southwestern France in April 2017.

The Nobel Prize in Chemistry 2016 was awarded jointly to Jean-Pierre Sauvage, Sir J. Fraser Stoddart and Bernard L.Geringa “for the design and synthesis of molecular machines”. In living organisms, cells work as molecular machines to power our organs, regulate temperature and repair damage. The Nobel trio was among the first to replicate this kind of function in synthetic molecules, by working out how to convert chemical energy into mechanical motion.

This allowed them to construct molecular devices a thousand times smaller than the width of a human hair, including switches, motors, shuttles and even something resembling a motorcar.

The nano-car race is a unique opportunity for researchers to implement cutting-edge techniques for the simultaneous observation and independent maneuvering of nano-machines. (Floro Mercene)