James Cooper discusses The Foresight Institute, future directions and goals for the Molecular Machines group. We seek to create an inclusive community of forward thinkers and doers who are interested in nanotechnology. A fantastic array of projects and contributors is lined up and more interesting projects are always being added. Attend the online discussions to get firsthand knowledge of exciting new developments of things like DNA origami, molecular rotors, and atomic force microscopy!


Presentation: What Does The Future Hold For Molecular Machines?

What is Foresight Institute about? 

  • Seeks to create a community to promote the beneficial use of nanotechnology and drive advances forward in this area.  It holds competitions and brings together diverse groups of people to push progress.  The main goal is to generate new research ideas that are fundable.
  • 2021 saw Foresight move mostly online, with monthly meetings instead of an annual competition.  These meetings should end with a set of challenges or forward looking goals.
  • A questionnaire was sent out to gauge the abilities of the members of the group.  I am Dr. James Cooper, a lecturer in the UK on organic chemistry.  2021 foresight fellow in transmembrane molecular technology.  Works with membrane-bound stimuli-responsive assemblies.  This is an example of how to fill out the questionnaire.
  • What is a molecular machine?  There are a diverse array of responses – molecular assembler, single molecule computing, motors, machine-like behavior.  Maybe ATP synthase, DNA polymerase, or ribosomes.
  • What are the future challenges for molecular machines?  Identify fundamental concepts, interface molecular machines with nano assemblies, get them to operate in concert, and then identify applications.
  • Some examples – pumps, rotary motors.  Can we make these more efficient or minimal?
  • Question – are these in aqueous solution?  Yes.
  • In order to leverage the work produced, we can integrate molecular machines into materials. 
  • Compartmentalizing molecular machines – we can use membrane bound molecular machines with rotary motors or other mechanisms.  There are also examples of molecular machines creating chemical gradients across membranes.
  • Another way to get work out of molecular machines is to incorporate them into surfaces.  Single molecule gears can move around on surfaces and interact with each other.  Switches can be put onto surfaces to switch systems on and off.
  • Examples of molecular assemblers.  Molecular machines that assemble peptides – although in these examples the track cannot be reloaded.
  • Another example solves the reloading problem but is no longer a track.  Is there a way to incorporate these together somehow?
  • An example of a machine that allows editing of a polymer structure.
  • We can use biological molecules and repurpose them for molecular machine applications.  Lipids, DNA, and peptides are available for use.
  • DNA origami is quite versatile and can be used to build a vast array of structures.
  • De-novo protein design could also open a wide field of opportunities.
  • Examples of self-replicating systems and self-assembling systems. 
  • Returning to future challenges – many of these categories have begun to be addressed.  We need to pin down the bottlenecks to drive advancement.
  • Upcoming events
  • The future of molecular machines is bright!


There’s a lot of talk about molecular machines – how does the foresight community address the schism between nano-mechanical machines vs. bio-inspired chemical/quantum machines?




Seminar summary by Aaron King.