Monday, March 14, 2011


Researchers at the Rice University embarked on a 'fantastic voyage' toward miniaturizing the beloved car to a scale that would be considered science fiction 20 years ago.  In 1998, principal investigator James Tour, professor of organic chemistry at Rice, began this journey.  It took his group eight years to synthesize a functional nanocar.  The goal was to create a nanomachine capable of converting energy-inputs (such as heat or electric fields) into controlled motion on a surface and transport cargo from one place to another on a surface.  Future nanomachine development depends on this because the bottom-up constructions may occur on the surface of semiconductors, metals, or biological and artificial membranes.  Thus, acquring better data on the chemistry and physics on nano-transporters on surfaces is critical; the creation of nanocars is an initial, but significant, step in this scientific frontier.  Nanocars allow us find out basic rules for their design and operation. 

The basic design of a nanocar is much like a real car: it has a  chassis and four axles, except that it's made out of organic groups with pivoting suspension and the axles freely rotate.  The wheels are buckyballs, The entire car measures just 3-4 nm across, just wider than a strand of DNA. 

Though laborious measurements on the STM, the researchers proved that the cars rolled on the surface rather than slide across as previously predicted.  Of course, they had to raise the temperature of the gold surface to 200 ÂșC, but they were still able to determine that it was easier to move the car forward or backward rather than sideways.