A Swiss team of two researchers from the Department of Physics at the University of Basel participated successfully at the world’s first nanocar race, organized by the French National Center for Scientific Research (CNRS) and competed against teams from Japan, France, Germany, Austria and the United States. Invisible to the naked eye, the microscopic race was fought on tracks of silver and gold, with the cars being single molecules synthesized by the teams from hundreds of atoms grouped together. These “cars” are moved by the researchers through electric jolts, using the tip of a scanning tunneling microscope (learn more).
The Nano Dragster, the molecule of the Swiss Nanolino Lab team, completed the gold track of 133 nanometers fastest – in six and a half hours! 100 nanometers equals 1/1000 of the width of a human hair. The Japanese team NIMS-MANA decided to stop their trials after two software crashes and in order not to disturb the efforts of the other cars – for which they were awarded the “Fair Play” prize.
The race was live-streamed on YouTube, but aside from its entertainment aspect, it also served a scientific purpose: to advance the manipulation of such molecular machines. This field also won last year’s Nobel Prize in Chemistry.