Scientists create world’s smallest car via nanotech

11 Nov 201128 Shares

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The world's smallest nano car, which is comprised of one single molecule

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You’ll never get to sit in this car, and even a hummingbird couldn’t fit in it, but scientists in Switzerland and the Netherlands have been playing with nanotechnology to the max, developing a noiseless nano car that’s comprised of just one single molecule!

The noiseless, emission-free, four-wheel drive car, jointly developed by scientists at the University of Groningen in the Netherlands and at Empa, epitomises the far-reaching possibilities of nanotechnology to reduce materials to the max. It’s also being termed the world’s smallest electric car.

According to its pioneers, the nano car consists of just a single molecule and travels on four electrically driven wheels in an almost straight line over a copper surface.

The film Honey I Shrunk The Kids comes to mind, especially as the molecular car measures about 4×2 nanometres.

Picture a VW Golf and then imagine a car about 1bn times smaller than that – there you have the nano car.

Nano-scale transport systems

The prototype also graces the front cover of the latest edition of Nature.

Nature has termed the molecular transport research a "decisive step on the road to artificial".

So how did they do it?

According to the two research teams, they "synthesised" a molecule from four rotating wheels, which can travel straight ahead in a controlled manner.

"To do this, our car needs neither rails nor petrol; it runs on electricity. It must be the smallest electric car in the world – and it even comes with four-wheel drive," said Empa researcher Karl-Heinz Ernst.

The downside of the car, said the scientists, is that it needs to be refuelled with electricity after every half revolution of the wheels – via the tip of a scanning tunnelling microscope (STM).

Also, due to its molecular design, the car’s wheels can only turn in one direction.

"In other words: there’s no reverse gear," said Ernst, who is also a professor at the University of Zurich.

In advance of Dublin City of Science 2012, Siliconrepublic.com is hosting Science November, a month dedicated to news, reports, interviews and videos covering a range of Irish science, research and innovation.

Carmel was a long-time reporter with Siliconrepublic.com

editorial@siliconrepublic.com