Richard Jones and commenters bring our attention to a number of enticing research papers on the use of catalysis and molecular motors to produce movement. One paper mentioned sounds particularly useful: an overview of progress on Synthetic Molecular Motors and Mechanical Machines. From the abstract:

The widespread use of controlled molecular-level motion in key natural processes suggests that great rewards could come from bridging the gap between the present generation of synthetic molecular systems, which by and large rely upon electronic and chemical effects to carry out their functions, and the machines of the macroscopic world, which utilize the synchronized movements of smaller parts to perform specific tasks.

This is a scientific area of great contemporary interest and extraordinary recent growth, yet the notion of molecular-level machines dates back to a time when the ideas surrounding the statistical nature of matter and the laws of thermodynamics were first being formulated.

Here we outline the exciting successes in taming molecular-level movement thus far, the underlying principles that all experimental designs must follow, and the early progress made towards utilizing synthetic molecular structures to perform tasks using mechanical motion. [Emphasis added]

We also highlight some of the issues and challenges that still need to be overcome.

Exciting indeed. I tried to find a preprint online without success, so I looked at purchasing the article online from the publisher, Wiley Interscience, which appears to own the journal Angewandte Chemie. Fortunately, they will indeed sell the full text; unfortunately, they want US$25 for one 24-hour period of online access to that one article.

Now, I am a big fan of Wiley Interscience, as they have published many nanotech books including Nanosystems. However, this is an absurd price. On top of that, it requires a registration process and a credit card purchase, which means waiting for a confirmation email, logging back in, finding the abstract again, and typing in lots of info including postal address. A huge hassle and a high price, for 24-hour access to one article.

Folks, this just won’t do. If the article cost $1 or $2, and I could pay easily (PayPal?), that would be okay. The research in question was probably paid for by the taxpayers where the researchers are located (UK and Italy), and now even they have to pay this high amount to view the results. It is this kind of situation that is driving the open access movement, which for-profit publishers such as Wiley probably dislike.

Here’s a suggestion to for-profit scientific and technical publishers: find a way to deliver online use conveniently, at a reasonable price, soon. Otherwise, open access will keep gaining momentum. (It will anyway, but not as quickly.) This is meant as friendly advice. —Christine