Meet the Bobcat Nanowagon, the world’s smallest monster truck

Curious chemical quirks may help explain why some nanocars end up in the breakdown lane

nano monster truck

VROOM VROOM  This nanoscale vehicle, dubbed the Ohio Bobcat Nanowagon, consists of four circular “wheel” molecules fastened to an H-shaped molecular frame.

E. Masson

WASHINGTON, D.C. — The world’s smallest monster truck has a chemical curiosity under its hood.

Made out of a mere five molecules, the Ohio Bobcat Nanowagon checks in at 3.5 nanometers long and 2.5 wide — about the width of a DNA strand. Even so, it was the heftiest contender in the first-ever nanocar race earlier this year. This pip-squeak vehicle took home the bronze, but perhaps more importantly, researchers made a surprising observation while manufacturing this model of nanoracer.

About 90 percent of the Bobcat Nanowagons that researchers produced broke apart when the scientists tried attaching them to a racetrack. Most broken bits looked like two-wheel hoverboards.

“It’s very surprising that it seems to be easier to break the chassis than to remove the wheel from the chassis,” study coauthor Eric Masson said August 23 in a news conference at the American Chemical Society Meeting. The type of chemical bond linking atoms in the car frame is typically thought to be stronger than the kind of bond attaching its wheels.

Masson, a chemist at Ohio University in Athens, and colleagues aren’t sure why the Bobcat Nanowagon was more liable to snap in half than lose a wheel. Explaining this chemical quirk could help scientists better understand the operations of molecular machines, which may be useful for transporting information in electronic devices or delivering drugs to specific cells (SN: 10/29/16, p. 6).

Previously the staff writer for physical sciences at Science News, Maria Temming is the assistant managing editor at Science News Explores. She has bachelor's degrees in physics and English, and a master's in science writing.

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