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

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