A trio of French, British and Dutch scientists won the Nobel Chemistry Prize on Wednesday for developing molecular machines, the world’s smallest machines that may one day act as artificial muscles to power tiny robots or even prosthetic limbs.
Jean-Pierre Sauvage of France, J. Fraser Stoddart of Britain and Bernard Feringa of the Netherlands “have developed molecules with controllable movements, which can perform a task when energy is added”, the jury said.
Inspired by proteins that naturally act as biological machines within cells, these synthetic copies are usually constructed of a few molecules fused together.
Also called nanomachines or nanobots, they can be put to work as tiny motors, ratchets, pistons or wheels to produce mechanical motion in response to stimuli such as light or temperature change.
Molecular machines can move objects many time their size. The three laureates will share the eight million Swedish kronor (around $933,000) prize equally.
The first step towards a molecular machine was taken by Mr. Sauvage in 1983, when he succeeded in linking together two ring-shaped molecules to form a chain.
Mr. Sauvage (71) is currently the director of research emeritus at France’s National Center for Scientific Research (CNRS).
The second step was taken by Mr. Stoddart in 1991, when he threaded a molecular ring onto a thin molecular axle and demonstrated that the ring was able to move along the axle.
Mr. Stoddart (74) is a professor of Chemistry at Northwestern University in the U.S.
Mr. Feringa (65) was meanwhile the first person to develop a molecular motor — in 1999 he was able to make a molecular rotor blade to spin continually in the same direction.
Using molecular motors, he has also designed a nanocar. He is currently a professor at the University of Groningen. — AFP
Also called nanobots, these tiny machines can be put to work as motors, ratchets, pistons or wheels