Scientists in the Netherlands have created a car that is made of just one molecule. The microscopic car features four rotating branches that act as wheels and motors. Technically called ‘molecular rotors’, their shape changes when they absorb electrons, which drives the car forwards.
The car’s power comes from the tip of a tiny point of metal – only one or two atoms thick – called a scanning tunnelling microscope.
With 10 electric bursts delivered by the small metal tip, scientist encouraged the car to move six billionths of a metre.
It will be some time before we are all driving around in single-molecule vehicles, however. So far, the micro car only works at -266 degrees Celsius and in a high vacuum, and scientists admit it will be a long time before molecule machines can be used practically.
The technology is not intended to make any sort of impact on the automotive industry. The bottom-up nanotechnology is helping scientists understand other molecular machines in naturally occurring biological systems, like muscle proteins.