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Solid state synthetic molecular machine points to advanced nanotechnology

This schematic shows how the various elements assemble themselves into mechanically interlocked molecules (Credit: University of Windsor).

Canadian chemists have induced a metal-organic framework to self-assemble and function as a molecular wheel on an axle in a solid state material. From a University of Windsor news article “Chemists break new ground in molecular machine research“:

A graduate student and his team of researchers have turned the chemistry world on its ear by becoming the first ever to prove that tiny interlocked molecules can function inside solid materials, laying the important groundwork for the future creation of molecular machines.

“Until now, this has only ever been done in solution,” explained Chemistry & Biochemistry PhD student Nick Vukotic, lead author on a front page article recently published in the June issue of the journal Nature Chemistry [abstract]. “We’re the first ones to put this into a solid state material.”

The material Vukotic is referring to is UWDM-1, or University of Windsor Dynamic Material, a powdery substance that the team made which contains rotaxane molecules and binuclear copper centers. The rotaxane molecules, which resemble a wheel around the outside of an axle, were synthesised in their lab. The group found that heating of these rotaxane molecules with a copper source resulted in the formation of a crystalline material which contained structured arrangement of the rotaxane molecules, spaced out by the binuclear copper centers.

“Basically, they self-assemble in to this arrangement,” said Vukotic, who works under the tutelage of chemistry professor Steve Loeb. Other team members include professor Rob Schurko, and post-doctoral fellows Kristopher Harris and Kelong Zhu.

Heating the material causes the wheels to rapidly rotate around the axles, while cooling the material causes the wheels to stop, he said. The entire process can’t be viewed with a microscope, so the motion was confirmed in Dr. Schurko’s lab using a process called nuclear magnetic resonance spectroscopy.

“You can actually measure the motion and you can do it unambiguously by placing an isotopic tag on the ring,” explained Dr. Harris, who helped oversee that verification process.

Although the team admits their findings are still very much a proof of principle, they insist that molecules in solid materials can be manipulated to form switches and machines. This could be extremely significant and could find future applications in the fields of computer storage, data transfer or controlling the electronic properties of materials at the molecular level. …

A key component of exploratory engineering studies for molecular manufacturing or productive nanosystems is the ability to model molecular systems reliably. Modeling motions of molecules in solution is very difficult. A method to produce molecular machines in a solid state environment is a huge step forward. It will be interesting to see just how complex a system of machines can be built in the solid state using these methods, and what can be done with them.
—James Lewis, PhD

5 Responses to “Solid state synthetic molecular machine points to advanced nanotechnology”

  1. flashgordon Says:

    I’m wondering if dna-nanotechnology can self-organize these into various patterns;

    There’s also been great work in using stm’s to make arbitrary and precise graphene shapes. One way or another, this is exciting for those who would like to see nanomanufacturing happen.

  2. NanoMan Says:

    You’re right flash. Great post. I have a question for you. Starting with DNA nanotech, STM/AFM probes, and these early molecular motors, how do you think full scale assembler replicator systems could be developed?

  3. flashgordon Says:

    I have had passing efforts to think about how to combine these solid state rotaxan molecular motors/gears with other enabling nanotechnology.

    the Dna nanotechnology can be used as a kind of mask from which molecules of various kinds can be deposited in desired positions; or, you can bind the rotaxane solid state on a part of a dna strand and self assemble it in various ways. That’s dna nanotechnology.

    Honestly, I really havn’t concluded anything( i just say the foresight blog entry yesterday!); but, here’s a similar concern or idea from some dna-nanotechnology I’ve had. The problem with dna-nanotechnology is it’s in solution and well, you have a lot of atoms and moleculars bumping around whether you want them or not. Solution? Well, after getting the right molecular structure(like a robotic arm), how to control it without the dna-nanotech machine being in solution? Well, have the dna-nano structure on the outside of a bag where the solution of dna messengers and water are kept. So, there’s a bag of some sufficiency where all the dna-nanotechnology goes on, and there’s an outside nanostructure that is being controlled. Well, one can find problems and solutions to those problems from there.

    Obviously, the Feynman/Drexler nanotechnology people are excited about this because they can avoid the solution phase chemistry problems. But, they still need to isolate it in a vacuum. That’s why I brought up my idea of isolating a dna-nanomachine on the outside where the solution phase chemistry is isolated. I’m really writing while I’m thinking! Like I said at the start, I just read this yesterday; and, I’m not in a position to try anything(i quit school for rather interesting reasons; i’ve tested things by hanging out on camposs to see how people are; i always end up with cops protecting me at the library; they’re always kicking it with the librarians, can’t believing they have to hang out in the library! I guess I could say discretely, that I have gangster problems! That’s as far as I should really describe it!)

    The fact that you’d like to preciselly place a chunk of solid state rotaxane gears/motors suggests stm usage.
    One could use these UWDM-1 to fold up graphene(which as I already stated graphene can now be shaped two dimensionally to atomic specification) in desired shapes.
    One could attach or use the UWDM-1 as a cam to a protein that can do some certain chemistry function.

    Bottom line, one can see the light at the end of the tunnel with UWDM-1!

  4. University of Windsor (Canada) chemists and molecular machines « FrogHeart Says:

    [...] Institute blog, where they have a very strong interest in molecular machines, commented in a June 26, 2012 posting, A key component of exploratory engineering studies for molecular manufacturing or productive [...]

  5. Molecular Machine Breakthrough: Solid State Synthetic Molecular Machine | Accelerating Future Says:

    [...] Via Foresight Institute. [...]

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