There is no smell of rubber burning, loud roar of engines, or taste of gasoline exhaust in the air - very untypical for car racing. This is the world's first ever nanocar race we are talking about. It was held on April 28 in Toulouse, France organized by the French National Center for Scientific Research (CNRS).
The competing nanoscaled race cars are uniquely designed and synthesized molecular machines, and can only seen under a scanning tunneling microscope (STM). Six international teams raced against each other on a 100 nm-long S-shaped race track that is made of gold atoms. To power their tiny vehicles, the teams of nanoscientists rely on the atom-sized STM tips made of tungsten to transport electrical energy.
Image credit: French National Center for Scientific Research (CNRS)
First proposed in 2013 by Christian Joachim and Gwénaël Rapenne, two prominent Nanoscience researchers from CNRS, the nanocar race is intended for molecular machinists to showcase the capability of their innovative designs and define the new direction in which nanotechnology is taking. The potential of advanced nano-sized machineries is beyond anyone's imagination. They could be applied in any fields from biomedicine to space exploration.
The competing miniature vehicles are small organic molecules made of tens to thousands of atoms. Among them, some resemble the real life automobile with parts looking like wheels, axles and chassis, while others not so much. Under STM, the Ohio Bobcat Nano-Wagon looks like a marshmallow with four ring-shaped lumps, which are actually cucurbituril molecules. The French home team’s Green Buggy and US-Austrian Dipolar Racer are the other two with car-like design. On the other hand, the Swiss Nano Dragster and German Windmill adopt a two-dimensional flat body, though they each holds a unique feature: the Dragster rely on its friction-minimizing structure to gain mobility on the gold race track, while the Windmill has phenyl-rings on its four blades so it can be more precisely steered. The Japanese NIMS-MANA car is a paddling machine. The swinging motion of the two paddle-shaped naphthyl groups moves the nanocar forward.
In the end, both US-Austrian and Swiss groups were crowned champions for their ability to cross the finishing line: the Dipolar Racer did it in 90 min, and the Nano Dragster in 6 hours. Neither did the Ohio nor the German team complete the race, but they covered a good distance of the course: 43 and 11 nm. Due to misfortune in their software, the Japanese NIMS-MANA car only drove 1 nm on the track. The French team's Green Buggy was given praise for its elegant design.