Researchers build synchronized molecular motors

Scientists can fit 44,000 billion of the tiny engines into a single square centimeter.
By Brooks Hays  |  May 10, 2016 at 10:32 AM
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ATHENS, Ohio, May 10 (UPI) -- Scientists have designed molecular motors capable of synchronization and communication.

Researchers say synchronized nanoscale engines could have a variety of practical applications in computers, photonics and electronics.

"Our goal is to mimic natural biological machines by creating synthetic machines we can control," Saw-wai Hla, a professor of physics and astronomy at Ohio University, said in a news release.

Hla and his research partners were able to coax 500 molecular motors into coordinated movement via a small volt of electricity sent through the tip of a scanning tunneling microscope. The motors moved simultaneously and smoothly in the same direction.

Scientists can fit 44,000 billion of the tiny engines into a single square centimeter.

"One of the goals of nanotechnology is to assemble billions of nanomachines packed into a tiny area that can be operated in a synchronized manner to transport information or to coherently transfer energy to multiple destinations within nanometer range," Hla explained.

The molecular motors are made up of a lower stationary deck, or stator, and an upper rotating deck, or rotor. The upper deck possesses eight sulfur atoms that serve as atomic glue and bind to gold and copper. A europium atom acts as a ball bearing, connecting the stator and rotor.

The motors' coordination is made possible by a dipole -- a negative and positive charged end -- that stretches across each of two rotors. The feature also allows the collection of nanomotors to form a ferroelectric system -- a system featuring spontaneous electric polarization, a quality prized in certain electronic devices.

In their experiments, the researchers found that the molecular motors are most coordinated when arranged in a hexagonal pattern.

Researchers detailed their discovery this week in the journal Nature Nanotechnology.

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