Nobel Prize Honors 3 Chemists for Creating World’s Smallest Machines

Oct 06, 2016 05:17 AM EDT

Three scientists received the Nobel Prize for chemistry for designing tiny molecular machines.

Nobel Laureates Jean-Pierre Sauvage from the University of Strasburg in France, Sir J. Fraser Stoddart from the Northwestern University in Illinois, and Bernard Feringa from the University of Groningen in Netherlands have taken chemistry to a new dimension by creating molecules with controllable movements, which can perform a task when energy is added, the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences said in a press release.

The molecular machines, which are thinner than a strand of hair, include a tiny lift, artificial muscles, and a mini motor. The machines could be used in the development of new materials, sensors, and energy storage systems.

It all started in 1983 when Sauvage succeeded in linking two ring-shaped molecules together to form a chain called a catenane. Molecules are normally linked by strong covalent bonds in which atoms share electrons. In Sauvage's experiment, the catenane was instead joined by a freer mechanical bond. Based on scientific principle, machines should consist of parts that can move relative to each other in order to perform a task. Sauvage's interlocked rings were able to work this way.

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In 1991, Stoddart developed a rotaxane after threading a molecular ring onto a thin molecular axle. He found that the ring was able to move along the axle. Based on rotaxanes, he created a molecular lift, a molecular muscle, and a molecular computer chip.

In 1999, Feringa got a molecular rotor blade and made it spin continually in the same direction. Out of this, he developed the world's first molecular motor. Using the molecular motor, he was able to rotate a glass cylinder that was 10,000 times bigger than the motor and created a nanocar.

These nanomachines, though small in size, have been revolutionary. According to the statement, "in terms of development, the molecular motor is at the same stage as the electric motor was in the 1830s when scientists displayed various spinning cranks and wheels, unaware that they would lead to electric trains, washing machines, fans and food processors."

Sauvage, Stoddart, and Feringa will divide the Nobel Prize amount of $937,000 (8 million Swedish krona).

Three scientists namely David Thouless, Duncan Haldane and Michael Kosterlitz also won the Nobel Prize in physics for their breakthrough research on the unusual states of matter, and Japanese scientist Yoshinori Oshumi was awarded the Nobel Prize for physiology/medicine for his discoveries on autophagy.

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