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Posted: May 08, 2017
The winner of the inaugural single-molecule nanotechnology Nanocar Race (w/video)
(Nanowerk News) Rice University chemist James Tour and his international team have won the first Nanocar Race.
The Rice and University of Graz team finished first in the inaugural Nanocar Race in Toulouse, France, April 28, completing a 150-nanometer course — roughly a thousandth of the width of a human hair — in about 1˝ hours. (The race was declared over after 30 hours.)
The team led by Tour and Graz physicist Leonhard Grill deployed a two-wheeled, single-molecule vehicle with adamantane tires on its home track in Graz, Austria, achieving an average speed of 95 nanometers per hour. Tour said the speed ranged from more than 300 to less than 1 nanometer per hour, depending upon the location along the course.
The Swiss Nano Dragster team finished next, five hours later. But organizers at the French National Center for Scientific Research declared them a co-winner of first place as they were tops among teams that raced on a gold track.
Because the scanning tunneling microscope track in Toulouse could only accommodate four cars, two of the six competing international teams — Ohio University and Rice-Graz — ran their vehicles on their home tracks (Ohio on gold) and operated them remotely from the Toulouse headquarters.
The Dipolar Racer designed at Rice.
Five cars were driven across gold surfaces in a vacuum near absolute zero by electrons from the tips of microscopes in Toulouse and Ohio, but the Rice-Graz team got permission to use a silver track at Graz. “Gold was the surface of choice, so we tested it there, but it turns out it’s too fast,” Grill said. “It’s so fast, we can’t even image it.”
The team got permission from organizers in advance of the race to use the slower silver surface, but with an additional handicap. “We had to go 150 nanometers around two pylons instead of 100 nanometers since our car was so much faster,” Tour said.
Tour said the race directors used the Paris-Rouen auto race in 1894, considered by some to be the world’s first auto race, as precedent for their decision April 29. “I am told there will be two first prizes regardless of the time difference and handicap,” he said.
The Rice-Graz car, called the Dipolar Racer, was designed by Tour and former Rice graduate student Victor Garcia-Lopez and raced by the Graz team, which included postdoctoral researcher and pilot Grant Simpson and undergraduate and co-pilot Philipp Petermeier.
The silver track under the microscope. Two Rice nanocars are in the blue circle at top. The lower car was the first to run the race, finishing in a 1.5 hours. The top car was put through the course later, finishing in 2 hours.
The purpose of the competition, according to organizers, was to push the science of how single molecules can be manipulated as they interact with surfaces.
“We chose our fastest wheels and our strongest dipole so that it could be pulled by the electric field more efficiently,” said Tour, whose lab has been designing nanocars since 1998. ‘We gave it two (side-by-side) wheels to minimize interaction with the surface and to lower the molecular weight.
“We built in every possible design parameter that we could to optimize speed,” he said.
While details of the Dipolar Racer remained a closely held secret until race time, Tour and Grill said they will be revealed in a forthcoming paper.
“This is the beginning of our ability to demonstrate nanoscale manipulation with control around obstacles and speed and will pave the way for much faster paces and eventually for carrying cargo and doing bottom-up assembly.
“It’s a great day for nanotechnology,” Tour said. “And a great day for Rice University and the University of Graz.”