The Austrian-American molecule is made from carbon, hydrogen, oxygen, and nitrogen. Like the French team's Green Buggy and the Ohio University team's molecule, the Ohio Bobcat Nano-Wagon, the Austrian-American molecule also looks “roughly like a car,” said pilot Grant Simpson of the University of Graz. Dubbed the Dipolar Racer, it contains a concentration of positive electric charge separated from a concentration of negative charge, which is known as a dipole.
“The tiny dipole of our molecule is able to interact with the electrical field of the tip in order to achieve lateral motion,” Simpson said.
Rapenne, the leader of the French team behind the Green Buggy, said that he and his colleagues are also working on a nano-scale motor, consisting of a unmoving stator deposed on the surface and a rotor on top of it, which could be rotated clockwise or counter-clockwise depending on where the electrons from the STM tip were aimed.
The 2016 Nobel Prize was awarded to three chemists who made pioneering advances with molecular machines in the 1980s and 1990s. They have suggested that nano machines could one day be used for diverse purposes, such as detecting cancer or as electronics that would serve as the basis for more efficient devices.
Rapenne said that although his team has no specific target applications in mind for either of these functions, it is conceivable that, if successful, his nano-technologies could be used to operate in cells or other biological settings.
But at the moment, he said, “we just want to answer some fundamental questions.”