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Surprising Science

A New Car, One Molecule High

Scientists at a Dutch university have shown off what can be described as the world’s smallest electric car—made of a single, carefully designed molecule.

What’s the Latest Development?

Scientists have used nanotechnology to design what can be described as the world’s smallest electric car—just one carefully designed molecule in size. The molecule’s base has four branches that act as crude wheels which rotate when a small electrical current is applied. Given ten bursts of the current, the small car was able to move six billionths of a meter. While laboratory conditions were strictminus 227 degrees Celsius and in a high vacuumthe achievement is an important advance for nanotechnology.

What’s the Big Idea?

The nano-car is an experiment in ‘bottom-up’ nanotechnology which, opposed to ‘top-down’ engineering, begins with a single molecule much the way biological systems function. Chemist Tibor Kudernac, lead author of the research, says muscle fibers, for example, similarly depend on the coordinated action of their smallest constituent parts. “This is a simple demonstration that we can achieve [something] like that.” While coordinated nanomachines are still a long way off, the new achievement will encourage research.

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