1-molecule vehicles to compete in NanoCar Race

Each nanocar will incorporate a chassis, axles, and freely rotating wheels. Each entry will cross a custom-built gold surface by an electric current supplied by the tip of a scanning electron microscope. The track will be cold -450 degrees Fahrenheit and in a vacuum. (Credit: Guillermo Vasquez/Flickr)

Although nobody will see the first international NanoCar Race, at least not directly, tiny cars from five teams will be visible through sophisticated microscopes developed for the event.

Time trials will determine which nanocar is the fastest, though there may be head-to-head races with up to four cars on the track at once, according to organizers of the miniature grand prix. The event will take place next November in Toulouse, France.


NanoCar Race, the first-ever race of molecule-cars by CNRS-en

A nanocar is a single-molecule vehicle of 100 or so atoms that incorporates a chassis, axles, and freely rotating wheels. Each of the entries will be propelled across a custom-built gold surface by an electric current supplied by the tip of a scanning electron microscope. The track will be cold at 5 kelvins (minus 450 degrees Fahrenheit) and in a vacuum.

nanocar design
This illustration shows a nanocar design. The first nanocars consisted of a chassis, two axles, and four wheels, all part of a single molecule. (Credit: Tour Group/Rice)

The Rice University entry will be a new model and the latest in a line that began when James Tour, professor of computer science and of materials science and nanoengineering, and his team built the world’s first nanocar more than 10 years ago.

“It’s challenging because, first of all, we have to design a car that can be manipulated on that specific surface,” Tour says. “Then we have to figure out the driving techniques that are appropriate for that car. But we’ll be ready.”

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Graduate student Victor Garcia is building what Tour calls his group’s Model 1, which members of Professor Leonhard Grill’s group at the University of Graz in Austria will drive. The labs are collaborating to optimize the design.

The Center for Materials Elaboration and Structural Studies (CEMES) of the French National Center for Scientific Research (CNRS) is organizing the event.

Christian Joachim, a senior researcher at CNRS, and Gwénaël Rapenne, a professor at Paul Sabatier University, first proposed the race in a 2013 paper in the journal ACS Nano.

Joining Rice are teams from Ohio University; Dresden University of Technology; the National Institute for Materials Science, Tsukuba, Japan; and Paul Sabatier University.

Source: Rice University