Nanocar Race 2017: The Swiss Nano Dragster

Published on November 21, 2016

“Nanocar Race 2017”: The Smallest Car of the World

What is a “Nanocar Race”? And how small is the smallest car of the world? In the Pantheon-Museum in Basel Niklas starts his research.


The Tools – STM and AFM

The Swiss Nanodragster has a size of about 1.5 nm. To see such a small molecule you need very precise tools.


Driving the Nanocar

As we have shown before there is a tunneling current between tip and sample. You can use this current to inject electric power into the nanocar


The Track – Preparation of the Sample

The track is a gold sample consisting of a perfect single crystal. But you have to clean the race track to be sure that there are only the nanocars and no other molecules from previous measurements.


The Environment – UHV and LT

UHV stands for Ultra High Vacuum. LT stands for Low Temperature. That means, for the race you have to cool down the microscope to -268°C .


Nanocar Race Part 2: The Nanocars – Single Molecules

The Swiss Nanodragster is an organic molecule. In our group in Basel, one of our research focuses is the investigation of organic molecules on different surfaces. Organic molecules consist mainly of Carbon atoms and build the basis of all living beings on earth. Molecules that we use are central building blocks in the most important processes in nature like photosynthesis and oxygen transport in blood.

An important property of these molecules is to form coordination complexes with metal atoms. It is also possible to build organic solar cells out of this kind of molecules.

For our nanocar we use this molecule because it has many advantages. Because of the before mentioned metal coordination there is one defined point where the molecule couples to the surface. This can be used as an engine of the nanocar. Furthermore the molecule is small and prefers to stay isolated on the surface. This is essential for using it as a nanocar. Many molecules build self assemblies which prevents using them as a nanocar.

Furthermore the Nanodragster has a CH3 group at the top of the molecule which acts as a spoiler and reduces friction with the surface. In total these properties make the Swiss Nanodragster a very fast nanocar!

Nanocar Race 2017

The NanoCar Race is an event in which molecular machines compete on a nano-sized racetrack. These “Nanocars” or molecule-cars can have real wheels, an actual chassis…and are propelled by the energy of electric pulses! Nothing is visible to the naked eye, however a unique microscope located in Toulouse will make it possible to follow the race. A genuine scientific prowess and international human adventure, the race is a one-off event, and will be broadcast live on the web, as well as at the Quai des Savoirs, science center in Toulouse.

On April 28 the Swiss Nano Dragster became the only car to complete the race on a gold track. CNRS declared the Swiss team a co-winner of the race, along with the U.S.-Austria team.

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