University of Edinburgh researchers have
constructed a molecular motor that can spin in either direction, much
like the biological molecular motors involved in many of life's processes.
The motor consists of a pair of interlocking rings; the smaller
ring travels clockwise or counterclockwise around the larger ring depending
on the order in which several chemical reactions are carried out on the
The motor could eventually be used in nanotechnology applications
like nanomechanical computers and molecular assembly.
The motor's smaller ring attaches to one of two docking sites
on the larger ring. Both paths between docking stations are blocked. Shining
ultraviolet light on the molecule trips off a chemical reaction that releases
the smaller ring from the first docking site. Once released, the smaller
ring is inclined by ever-present Brownian molecular motion to move around
the larger ring.
A second chemical reaction removes the block on the desired side
to allow the smaller ring to travel 180 degrees around the larger ring
and connect to the second docking station.
A chemical catalyst releases the smaller ring from its second
docking place; when the block is chemically released the ring moves back
to its original position.
To be practical, the motor must rotate much more quickly, and
the rotation mechanisms must be simplified. Proof-of-concept molecular
motors take minutes or hours to rotate. Practical motors would have rotations
measured in milliseconds, or thousandths of a second. The researchers'
molecular motor requires four inputs in the form of light, heat or chemicals
to complete a rotation. Ideally the motors would be driven by light or
The molecular motor could be ready for practical use in 10 years,
according to the researchers. The work appeared in the November 25, 2004
issue of Science.
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