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UK nanotechnology team makes motor-mechanism for nanomachines

UK nanotech researcher David Leigh and team have published new work in Nature on a nanotechnology achievement — an information rachet, inspired by Maxwell’s Demon but not violating the Second Law — that sounds possibly important for molecular nanomachines. At, you can read the full paper (pdf), or a more accessible explanation:

Chemists at the University of Edinburgh have created a molecular machine that operates via a mechanism inspired by a 140 year-old thought experiment. The ‘molecular information ratchet’ uses light energy to fuel information transfer, a fundamentally new type of motor-mechanism for artificial nanomachines…

Now, chemists at the University of Edinburgh have actually made[4] a molecular machine that performs the sorting task envisaged for Maxwell’s pressure demon (Figure 1b) but, crucially, it requires an input of external energy to do so and so does not challenge the Second Law of Thermodynamics. Using light energy, the molecule is able to transmit information about the position of a molecular fragment in a manner that allows transport of the same fragment in a particular direction (Figure 2). This information-based system represents a fundamentally new type of motor-mechanism for synthetic nanomachines.

The new nanomachine belongs to a class of molecules known as ‘rotaxanes’…

But the ultimate goal for synthetic molecular machines is to harness their abilities for our own technological use; the creation of artificial nanotechnology. Many believe that a working artificial nanotechnology will ultimately have an impact on our economy and our society that is comparable in scale and scope to the steam engine, electricity, the transistor, and the internet. The realisation of that vision is still some way off, but this new motor-mechanism represents a useful step along the road towards it. [Emphasis added]

Many do indeed believe that. Based on recent nanoactivity, it appears that quite a few of the more serious ones are based in the UK. It will be interesting to see if Prof. Leigh stays there, or can be lured away as was Fraser Stoddart. —Christine

3 Responses to “UK nanotechnology team makes motor-mechanism for nanomachines”

  1. Martin G. Smith Says:

    Thank you Christine for the expanded links you have provided, we have followed the story since it first hit the Highway of Light on February 1st. You have provided much more with your links and sparked the interest of the crew even more, Well Done.

  2. hal dean Says:

    Why does he need to be lured away? It is not essential that this technology is brought to fruition in the USA. If breakthroughs in countries outside of the USA help to accelerate the development of such things as molecular manufacturing, I’ll applaud each and every one of them.

  3. Christine Peterson Says:

    Hal — You’re right; it’s not essential. (Though I would argue that it will be much better if the technology advances faster in responsible, democratically-governed countries — however one chooses to define that.)

    I was mostly just speculating on whether the UK will be able to hold onto him. It’s not just the US recruiting, others are as well, such as Singapore. But the UK has growing strengths in this area. –Christine

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