Measuring just one nanometer wide, the new device shatters the world record of 200 nanometers. Compare that to the thickness of a human hair which measures a whopping 60,000 nanometers.
The team leader, Charles Sykes, says there have been other single-molecule motors, but this is the first electric motor. Scientists have been able to create motors powered by either light or chemicals.
There are advantages to a electric motor. Chemicals need to be continuously added to an chemical motor. With a light-driven version, a narrow beam of light needs to be focused on the motor.
“The excitement is in the demonstration that you can provide electricity to a single molecule and get it to do something that’s not just random,” Sykes said.
The new engine could not have been created without a low-temperature scanning tunneling microscope. They were able to pinpoint the tip of the microscope on a butyl methyl sulfide molecule which had been placed on a copper surface.
Sykes says there are medical and engineering uses for his new motor, but before they realize the potential applications breakthroughs would have to be made in the temperatures at which electrically driven molecular motors operate. These temperatures range as low as 5 Kelvin (-450 degrees F).
By: Mark Williams
Image: Charles Sykes by Alonso Nichols