"The synthesis and testing of nanocars and other molecular machines is providing critical insight in our investigations of bottom-up molecular manufacturing," said co-lead researcher James Tour, a professor of mechanical engineering, materials science and computer science. "We'd eventually like to move objects and do work in a controlled fashion on the molecular scale, and these vehicles are great test beds for that."
The nanocar consists of a chassis and axles made of well-defined organic groups with pivoting suspension and freely rotating axles. The wheels are buckyballs -- spheres of pure carbon containing 60 atoms apiece. The entire car measures just 3-4 nanometers across, making it slightly wider than a strand of DNA.
Other researchers have created nanoscale objects shaped like cars, but co-author Kevin Kelly, assistant professor of electrical and computer engineering, said Rice's vehicle is the first to roll on four wheels in a direction perpendicular to its axles.
The "nanocar" is described in an online research paper and due to appear in a future issue of the journal Nano Letters.
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