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New nanotechnology movie shows nanocar propulsion

The Future of Things, an online magazine based in Israel, has a nanotechnology article/interview with the clearest explanation I’ve seen of the two generations of nanocars built at Rice University. We’ve discussed this before, but a more comprehensible exposition is always welcome. See especially the Flash movie of how the latest nanocar moves. Some excerpts:

A year after the creation of the first nanocar by scientists from Rice University, a new and improved version is on the showroom floor. The new car, which includes a light-driven engine, opens the door to future development of more sophisticated nanomachines that could be used, among other things, for targeted drug delivery within the body…

[From Prof. Kevin Kelly:] Since last fall, we have test driven nanocars with a second type of molecular wheel, but it appears that buckyballs still make the best nanotires. We are also investigating other prototype molecular structures, synthesized by Professor Tour’s group, for the chassis. We are particularly interested in ones that will undergo a chemical reaction and carry a second molecule as cargo. These have been nicknamed “nanotrucks”…

[From grad student Yasuhiro Shirai:] In the 2006 work, we also proved that the original C60 wheel cannot be used for the motorized nanocar because it quenches the motor rotation. This is the reason we replaced the original C60 wheels with carborane wheels.

This last quote is interesting because it shows how engineers work. Often you’ll see scientists complain that a particular molecular machine design won’t work, implying that therefore the goal is impossible. They don’t seem to understand that when an engineer discovers that a design won’t work, often he/she can the alter the design to something that does work. In fact, this is a large part of what engineering is all about! —Christine

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