A trio of scientists -- Jean-Pierre Sauvage, Sir J. Fraser Stoddart and Bernard L. Feringa -- has won the Nobel Prize in Chemistry for designing and creating the world's smallest machines, turning linked-up molecules into contraptions that could do work, the Royal Academy of Swedish Sciences announced this morning. These include a tiny lift, artificial muscles and a mini motor.
The molecular machines, which are 1,000 times thinner than a strand of hair, have "taken chemistry to a new dimension," according to a Nobel Prize statement.
The story begins in 1983, when Sauvage, who is now at the University of Strasbourg, France, linked two ring-shaped molecules into a chain; but rather than connecting the molecules by having them share electrons, Sauvage used a freer mechanical bond. "For a machine to be able to perform a task it must consist of parts that can move relative to each other. The two interlocked rings fulfilled exactly this requirement," according to the statement.
RELATED: The Youngest Nobel Prize Winners: Photos
In 1991, Stoddart, now at Northwestern University, in Evanston, Ill., took a molecular ring and threaded it onto a molecular axle. Then, he closed the opening of the ring to keep it attached to the molecular axle. From this teensy feat, Stoddard crafted a molecular lift, a molecular muscle and a molecular computer chip.
In 1999, Feringa created the world's first molecular motor. Now at the University of Groningen, in the Netherlands, Feringa created a molecular rotor blade and got it to spin in the same direction. Feringa also designed a nanocar using a molecular motor.
WATCH VIDEO: Nobel Prizes: Who Won and Who Got Snubbed