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Nanocars And Molecular Motor Proteins

Updated on January 3, 2012

Nanocars But Not The Tata Nano Car

image by vipez on Flickr
image by vipez on Flickr

Nanocar Design: Nanocars Tomorrow

The race's entrants are ready and have placed their entries on the track in hopes of winning the First Annual Nanocar International Invitational. Indeed, the cars in this racing event are not the pinewood derby cars of Boy Scouts years past, no these are nanotechnology machines with molecular motors competing in a scramble to crown the most efficient molecule from the well-researched and meticulously designed field of nanoengineer inceptions. The track is not the same as that which those vintage blocks of pine once raised either, no these nanocars glide around on streets of gold, copper, and other metals. These nano-sized molecular motors can be seen in terms of atoms with some of the more recent molecules sizing up at about 18-atoms or so. There has also been a nanodragster version of the nanocar which resembles a dragster in that it has a larger axle and rear wheels with a smaller front axle and fullerene wheels like some hot rods. While the speed may not be quite up to par to allow for useful applications just yet, it is a far improvement over the challenge physicist Richard Feynman gave in his 1959 speech There's Plenty Of Room At The Bottom.

The first nanocar molecule really came into being in 2005 when Professor James Tour and his Rice University research group developed the "nanocar" without a molecular motor. It was really just a research apparatus meant to verify a scientific hypothesis rather than provide actual molecular transportation. Tour and his group wanted to know whether the incredibly intriguing fullerenes (hollow sphere, ellipsoid, or tube-shaped carbon molecules) moved on metal surfaces by sliding or whether their buckyball wheels rolled. The experiment determined that a nanocar with fullerene wheels actually rolled upon a gold surface that was heated and then observed with a scanning tunnel microscope. So nanocars with fullerene wheels and alkyne axles where able to roll but since then nanoengineers and nanotechnology researchers have been looking to add the synthetic molecular motor into the equation to provide rotation through energy input.

The synthetic molecular motors under the hood of these futuristic nanocars can be protein induced motion (protein dynamics) or there are subgroups which are investigating non-peptide and non-biological molecular motors which can also provide the motion necessary. To this end, there have been attempts at chemically driven molecular motors, light-driven molecular motors, and, as recently as 2008, electron tunneling motors which provide continuous rotation by a permanent torque mechanism. Such organic carbon-based nanocars can be controlled by four drive wheels or rotors. Nanoresearchers at the University of Groningen are making use of certain chiral properties of molecules and have been able to use that lack of internal plane of symmetry to induce the desired direction of motion. By adjusting the chirality of various rotor parts the group was able to manipulate the alignment and by doing so they have effectively added steering to the nanocars in a fashion similar to protein nanomotors. This version is described in more detail in the November 10, 2011 edition of the journal Nature.

The various uses and applications of nanocars and their accompanying molecular motors could prove quite beneficial to humankind and civilization. Nanotechnology experts foresee uses if the field of medicine where the machine might enter the blood stream or internal organs and be used for carrying a payload of pharmaceutical drugs to combat an ailment that otherwise would evade us. Feynman gave another anecdote in his speech about a patient swallowing the surgeon and then one might see nanomachines driving in nanocars that could get to work performing the necessary repair functions. This is a similar parallel to the use of Fluorescent Nanodiamonds as medicinal biomarkers. This could be a great breakthrough in discovering more about the body and improving health. Also, nanocars may find a use as builders for other more complex nanomachines and transporters of said machinery. And this just when you though the 2012 Tata Nano model car was the smallest and cheapest new car on the market. At a price of a little over $2000 dollars for the metallic edition, the Tata Nano may indeed be the cheapest but can't compare to the true nanoscale car of the future.


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    • againsttheodds profile image

      againsttheodds 6 years ago

      There has not been one yet, it was just a creation of my imagination but nanocars are very real and various variations and molecular motors are being constantly improved and researched.

    • American_Choices profile image

      American_Choices 6 years ago from USA

      What year was the First Annual Nanocar International Invitational?