Molecular Machines

2016 Chemistry Nobel Prize (Kishan Patel & Dylan Humphries)

The Idea

In 1984, chemist Nobel Laureate Richard Feynman gave a visionary lecture in which he introduced the idea of micromachinery performing functional and purposeful tasks. This idea had been previously tested during the 1950’s, but due to a lack of development, was largely given up on by the 1980’s. Feynman however, brought the idea back and sparked a new interest in creating tiny molecular machines.

The Men of the Machines

By 2016, three chemists (Jean-Pierre Sauvage, Sir J. Fraser Stoddart, and Bernard L. Feringa) had finally fulfilled Feynman’s vision, by creating molecular machines that are more than 1,000 times smaller than a strand of hair.

These machines were created by way of 3 experiments, that when combined, led to the formation of molecular machines...

The Breakthrough

1- Jean-Pierre Sauvage linked molecules around a copper ion, then removed the ion, in order to create a microscopic chain of molecules, and in turn the first molecular machine.

2- Then, J. Fraser Stoddart added onto this chain by using molecules with and without electrons that could move up and down the chain by attracting them with heat. By manipulating the heat, as well as the size and shape of the molecular chain, these molecules could then perform a variety of functions, including move up or down, side to side, or rotate.

3- Finally, Ben Feringa built upon the ideas of the other two chemists, by controlling the movement of the molecules on the chain. Through use of ultraviolet light, Feringa was able to control the exact movement of the molecules, therefore creating a fully functional molecular motor.

Why Did They Win?

Ultimately, the end result of the project was winning the Nobel Prize in Chemistry for 2016. These micro machines, above numerous other contestants, were chosen because of their ability to due a variety of tasks in multiple fields, including: medicine, engineering, and health care.

Furthermore, the machines were truly revolutionary in the way that they were constructed. Different from typical chemical bonds, these machines are bound by mechanical bonds.

Current and Future Uses

The actual development of the machines by today’s Nobel laureates was a big step forward for nanotechnology and may be useful in medicine and energy storage. For example, they could deliver drugs precisely to diseased cells, which would reduce the side effects of attacking many cells (including healthy ones) with medication. They could also be used as a new way to store energy or to create scratch-resistant materials.

The Legends

These men will forever be remembered in history as the persistent and innovative elites who turned a decades-long dream into reality, achieving a great feat for all of humanity to benefit from in the future.