Remotely Controlled Nanomachines

July 3, 2007
Remotely Controlled Nanomachines
Adding legs to molecules of azobenzene adhered to a gold surface allows them to change shape when illuminated with a UV laser. Credit: M. J. Comstock et al. Physical Review Letters

Physicists at the University of California at Berkeley have produced images that show how light can control some of the smallest possible machines.

By shining ultraviolet laser light on tiny molecules of azobenzene adhered on a layer of gold, they could force the molecules to change shape at will. Potentially, the molecules could be incorporated into nanomachines in the form of remotely controlled switches, pistons or other movable components.

Scientists have experimented with shape-shifting azobenzene in previous studies, but the molecules only responded properly when suspended in liquids or incorporated into plastics, neither of which makes a very good foundation for complex nanomachines. In order to get the molecular machines to function while mounted on a gold surface, the physicists first had to add legs built of carbon and hydrogen atoms to hold the molecules slightly away from the metal.

Although the legs anchoring the molecules to the surface only provided a fraction of a nanometer of clearance (less than a billionth of a meter), it was enough to allow the molecules to move in response to the UV illumination.

The team confirmed their achievement with a series of scanning tunneling microscope images showing that they could switch the molecules' shapes from one configuration and back again.

Citation: M. J. Comstock et al., Physical Review Letters (forthcoming article)

Source: American Physical Society

Explore further: In tuning friction to the point where it disappears, technique could boost development of nanomachines

Related Stories

Single unlabelled biomolecules can be detected through light

September 23, 2014

Being able to track individual biomolecules and observe them at work is every biochemist's dream. This would enable the scientists to research in detail and better understand the workings of the nanomachines of life, such ...

Two-proton bit controlled by a single copper atom

January 16, 2014

Just a single foreign atom located in the vicinity of a molecule can change spatial arrangement of its atoms. In a spectacular experiment, an international team of researchers was able to change positions of the nuclei of ...

Recommended for you

Reshaping the solar spectrum to turn light to electricity

July 28, 2015

When it comes to installing solar cells, labor cost and the cost of the land to house them constitute the bulk of the expense. The solar cells—made often of silicon or cadmium telluride—rarely cost more than 20 percent ...

Could stronger, tougher paper replace metal?

July 24, 2015

Researchers at the University of Maryland recently discovered that paper made of cellulose fibers is tougher and stronger the smaller the fibers get. For a long time, engineers have sought a material that is both strong (resistant ...

Wafer-thin material heralds future of wearable technology

July 27, 2015

UOW's Institute for Superconducting and Electronic Materials (ISEM) has successfully pioneered a way to construct a flexible, foldable and lightweight energy storage device that provides the building blocks for next-generation ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.