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Electric Motor Made From a Single Molecule 82

An anonymous reader writes "For the first time, an electric motor has been made from a single molecule. At 1 nanometre long, it's the smallest electric motor ever. Its creators plan to submit their design to Guinness World Records, but the teeny motor could have practical applications, such as pushing fluid through narrow pipes in 'lab-on-a-chip' devices. E. Charles Sykes at Tufts University in Boston and colleagues anchored lopsided butyl methyl sulphide to a copper surface and flowed current through it."
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Electric Motor Made From a Single Molecule

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  • does it comes with gears?
    • Who cares about gears? As far as I can see this isn't a one molecule motor unless you exclude the "copper surface". If you're allowed to ignore half of the motor assembly then all brushless electric motors in fact have only one part, the rotor. A true one-molecule motor would have to work as both rotor and stator which is a nonsensical concept. I know the person who made up the title was trying to be exciting, but it's so wrong as to be idiotic.

  • imagine if you took a conical bath...

  • faping (Score:1, Interesting)

    by rim_namor ( 2454342 )
    That's what I get for reading TFA.

    Molecules have previously converted energy from light and chemical reactions into directed motion like rolling or flapping. Electricity has also set an oxygen molecule spinning randomly. But controlled, electrically-driven motion â" necessary for a device to be classed as a motor â" had not yet been observed in a single molecule.

    Try reading that and try not to get the wrong impression. Faping?

    • by Anonymous Coward

      It clearly reads "flapping."

      Stop fapping so much, turns your brain into jelly.

  • When will they release drivers for Linux?
    • by Anonymous Coward

      Just as soon as your mother gets raped by a Grue.

  • Is that they want $18 for instant access to the full document...
  • Now I can see how my car [sciencedaily.com] does on the quarter mile

  • Impressive yes, but it looks like they`re defining a motor as an armateur while ignoring the equipment that generates the electric fields.

    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward

      Impressive yes, but it looks like they`re defining a motor as an armateur while ignoring the equipment that generates the electric fields.



      the molecule's hops were not random but slightly biased towards rotating clockwise, allowing the researchers to classify it as a motor.

      Definition of electric motor [wikimedia.org]

      An electric motor converts electrical energy into mechanical energy.

      If you're going to be a pedant on Slashdot, you really need to practice more - Mr. Over-a-million-user-id

      • Most people would define an electric motor as something that takes electricity and produces motion, not an electric field. The molecule by itself, not attached to the copper doesn't rotate. By your definition, a hydrogen atom is a motor as it will move in an electric field.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    wtf has happened to /. is it really all trolls? doesn't anyone have anything useful to say?

    • All the more intelligent Slashdot posters from the past are now spending all their time mining BitCoins. It's the only currency that's guaranteed not to be inflated away when the Euro and US$ collapse.
      • by Anonymous Coward

        Not so! Many of them aren't posting comments since they're too busy reading all those highly-rated Packt books.

  • the axis is a few atoms of copper, the asymmetric butyl methyl sulphide molecule, which is a sulphur atom with a chain of four carbons on one side and a lone carbon atom on the other. The molecule is pinned down somehow by the copper atoms 'binding'? to sulphuf atom, which forms a 'propeller' and then they apply DC to it and the molecule rotates 50 times a second. I say what, build 2 of these, link the copper parts together, attach the world's smallest battery and put an amoeba on top. You got yourself th
    • Wouldn't the copper atoms count as another molecule making it a 2 molecule motor?
      • Metal atoms are not molecules, duuuuude. It's like, they are atoms, not molecules, you see? Molecules are groups of atoms that are bound together by covalent bonds you see? Atoms can be molecules, but it doesn't apply to metals, you see?
  • Liquid Crystals (Score:5, Informative)

    by SMoynihan ( 1647997 ) on Monday September 05, 2011 @12:54PM (#37309272)

    Liquid crystal molecules (e.g., the cyanobiphenyls with aliphatic tails which form E7) have lengths of ca. 2 nm. These definitely respond to external electric or magnetic fields to spin and reorient (otherwise, you'd likely be looking at a fairly boring screen right now...)

    The novelty here is that the researchers have formed a pivot about which the structure rotates. Further, they seem to have overcome any electrostatic attraction to the surface which would act to lock the molecule in place.

    Interesting stuff.

  • I'm thinking plasma pumps...

    • by c0lo ( 1497653 )

      I'm thinking plasma pumps...

      Nano my ass. The fucking abstract [nature.com]:

      Electrons from a scanning tunnelling microscope are used to drive the directional motion of the molecule in a two-terminal setup.

      When your motor "power delivery" mechanism looks this big [anl.gov], your motor it's hardly a nano-device anymore.

  • by ShooterNeo ( 555040 ) on Monday September 05, 2011 @01:20PM (#37309416)

    Molecular manufacturing technology may be decades away, but things like this are enheartening to read about. Out of all of the possible technologies we might develop in the foreseeable future, molecular manufacturing nanotechnology is the most promising. (that we know are possible within the laws of physics...antigravity or free energy would be nice but we don't know of any physical principles that would allow them)

    Essentially, "all" we have to do is develop a nanoscale machine that is made of gears and motor systems like this one and has sensors and electronics packages. It has to duplicate the functions of a 3d printer under extremely controlled conditions.

    Limitations on the machine : conditions will need to be as predictable as humans can make them. That means cryogenic temperatures, a vacuum chamber, a steady and consistent power source, and a steady supply of completely pure feedstock to work with.

    The machine's function would be to place a single atom in one of several possible locations, and/or to stabilize a structure with some kind of atomic clamp that injects or removes electric charge. Each machine would probably only be able to work in a single case...say a carbon atom in a single bonding scenario for one machine.

    You'd build arrays of these machines, and with a few hundred variants of the machine (each one only slightly different than the others) you'd have a complete printing system able to print nearly any structure you have the atomic bonding map for, including COPIES OF THEMSELVES.

    That last bit is everything. Nanotechnology is merely a hyper-expensive way to make high end electronics and other expensive items without self replication.

    WITH it, the sky is the limit. With self replication, we could very soon make huge arrays of these 3d printers, big flat plates with trillions and trillions of individual, identical subunits. These machines could gradually produce, inside big vacuum chambers and at cryogenic temperatures, almost anything you have the resources and means to make.

    All those kids who claim they want to help the unfortunate in Africa? We need this kind of technology to really make a dent in the world's problems. Anyone want to go to outer space? The only real way we could ever make rocket rides cheap enough for the average man is if building high end spacecraft was as easy as printing out the parts, with near complete automation (and the parts would be atomically near-perfect, eliminating the need for most quality control)

    We could even use disposable rockets this way...just send out a tractor to pick up the spent stages, melt down the metals in a plasma furnace to separate the different elements, and reform the atomic feedstock you need to print out new spacecraft.

    Want artificial intelligence? Ain't going to happen with today's software methods nor today's neuroscience. But if you could look at atomically perfect scans of a perfectly preserved human brain (through careful cryogenic freezing and fixation) you could actually steal the firmware of human intelligence right from the hardware. With automated tools, you'd convert neural maps of human beings you KNOW were sentient (before they died) and emulate them on molecular computing circuitry. It probably would still be an incredible challenge, but with these kinds of tools I think working AI would be merely a matter of time.

    Tired of being born, growing up, enjoying a brief period of good health and sexual function, and then gradually declining decade after decade until death? In the long run, this same technology could be used to repair human bodies or even eliminate the need for them entirely.

    • OK Kurzweil, calm down. Yes, nanotech could in some version of future reality do some of the things you mention, but it is not a prerequisite. Outer space : Accessible by "average" people in the "near" future using near future materials tech via a space elevator. (wonder how that will get modded :) And the quality control is not the only thing that makes a rocket expensive. How about the tons of high strength materials and fuel. You still have to pay for raw materials even in a nanotech world. Africa: Hm
      • I'm not Kurzweil. I don't think that his desired scenario is at all inevitable, and technical challenges may mean that it takes centuries to come about. (although once the full Singularity really started i don't see why it wouldn't reach the end-game conditions within a decade or two. )

        And for fixing Africa and third world governments : the fix is to print millions of remotely controlled drone soldiers and invade and depose every government in the third world. Possibly at the same time. The only way you

        • Wow, utopia to distopia in a few nanoseconds. Did you get whiplash? :) All I was saying is that while nanotech may someday fulfill the promise of ending scarcity, it is not the only solution. And I agree with your commentary about the negative effects of elimination of scarcity to a point. It could certainly descend into police state very quickly. If a very few can provide for the many then they can also control them.

          The main point was that while certain tech may make some things inevitable, it's not really

          • Ending scarcity is not likely to happen within our current economic model. Most goods are made scarce artificially to increase their value already.
          • I'd like to hear more about your ideas. What would we be able to accomplish if we had the "political and social will" to do so. My assumption about our reality is that human nature is unchanging because evolution is a glacially slow process. The reason why human societies change at all is driven by the new rules created by technology. The world we have now is better than before : longer lifespans, more toys, etc only because of technology. Even social reforms : elimination of slavery/civil rights were

            • A space elevator is one technology that needs no huge breakthroughs. We are within an order of magnitude of the required materials science to produce such a thing. The main obstacle is will to do. Given funding and an Apollo type effort, this could be a reality soon, and allow "cheap" access to space.

              Africa is mainly a political problem, so I doubt any amount of technology will affect the situation there much. Africa is so far behind current tech that advances here make very little difference there. But cur

              • I think the space elevator is a horrible engineering idea. I am not impressed by space elevator cultists. You are talking about thousands of miles of cable and that the entire system will fail if a single piece breaks anyone. Also, you beam all of the energy needed to reach orbit from the ground to the climber using lasers. The climber takes days to make 1 trip, preventing the elevator from being used for anything else during that time. A single missile, a single hit from a high energy weapon, and you

    • by am 2k ( 217885 )

      That's awfully close to how DNA works... Every single nanobot would need to have an algorithmic description of the construction plan of the target device and would need to know how to replicate itself (mitosis). In the end, the bots wouldn't construct the device, they would be the device.

      • Every single nanobot would need to have an algorithmic description of the construction plan of the target device

        This isn't necessary and is in fact a potentially dangerous design if you are considering grey goo. Numbered instructions can instead be transmitted to the assemblers on a continuously repeating loop. Aside from being safer, it simplifies the design of the assembler.

        • by am 2k ( 217885 )

          But for that, you'd need communications hardware on the nanobot, which would increase its size significantly. Of course it would be easier to do, de/encoding DNA is equally complicated and thus done by trail-and-error right now.

    • by renoX ( 11677 )

      Your nano-maker machine to be useful must only be
      - very, very precise
      - nearly flawless
      - very energy efficient
      - quick

      It is possible of course (as proved by existence of complex biological entities) but it's going to be incredibly hard.

      • ? It need not be energy efficient or quick, relatively speaking. Even a very slow machine that consumed a lot of energy would be incredibly useful. Precision has to be high enough for self replication to succeed at least some of the time, and the machine by definition IS flawless since every atom in the machine would have a purpose.

  • Here is a great idea for stimulus and money well spent - put more money towards R&D, build moire atoms and molecules, whatever, will generate jobs, engineering, science. Stop wars and spend money on building. Infrastructure, science, universities, schools, engineers, molecules, anything to get the economy going in the right direction. With these electrical motors, who needs oil? Put more electrical motors all over the place, attach some solar cells and wind tunnels, get moving, fix the economy.
    • by c0lo ( 1497653 )

      With these electrical motors, who needs oil? Put more electrical motors all over the place, attach some solar cells and wind tunnels, get moving, fix the economy.

      Don't forget the scanning tunnelling microscope [nature.com] to be used in driving each of the motors. Oh boy, building them will certainly fix the economy... even if it will only be the China's economy to be fixed.

      • Don't forget the scanning tunnelling microscope [nature.com] to be used in driving each of the motors. Oh boy, building them will certainly fix the economy... even if it will only be the China's economy to be fixed.

        To be fair, I think the "scanning" and "microscope" are the expensive part of a STM, and not really necessary to drive a motor. There are all sorts of devices that can generate streams of electrons cheaply, though it's unclear what the requirements are to drive the motor - in the worst case, it may require something similar in complexity to a STM for precision and a supercomputer to do the job of aiming and timing the power source that's done by a human with a STM in this instance. In that case, it's going

  • Isn't there a nanofoot, imperial units users?
    • Nah, no way. You are not scaling imperial units by SI suffixes. You gotta define something more creative, like 36 toes in a foot, 17 toenails in a toe, 366,69 toenail clippings in a toenail and so on, until you arrive at nano scale.
    • That's femtofurlongs you insensitive clod! Long live the empire! Down with rational metrics! May the inch be ever defined as the length of the current queen's nose and the foot be eternally defined as the length of her pinky times pi*. At least that way we can all understand what we're talking about.

      *Except in times of war, or in cases of amputation, in which case it would be index finger times e. **

      **Not to include artificial fingernails. ***

      *** Except in cases of very short queens in which case carefully

    • Isn't there a nanofoot, imperial units users?

      Of course, it's 1/25400000th of an inch.

  • by Anonymous Coward


    The group also made a video trying to explain the project.

  • How long until we see a General Products Hull?
  • by sohmc ( 595388 )
    I'm pretty sure this is a Star Trek: Voyager episode [memory-alpha.org]. This should get the attention of the Borg.
    • I was interested in this until I heard Voyager. That was such a horrible show the plot was set in the past so they could get it behind them as fast as they could.

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