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Tiniest car gets a test drive

Zap of electricity propels nano-motors

2:57pm, November 9, 2011

ON A ROLL  A mini four-wheeled vehicle rolls across a surface when zapped with electricity that contorts the wheels’ axle. 

Scientists have created the tiniest electric car ever — although it won’t be coming to your local dealership anytime soon. With four molecular wheels and a carbon-based frame, the mini-roadster is a step toward devices that mimic the machinery of molecular life.

The researchers started with little motorized “wheels,” molecules inspired by the motors that some bacteria use to propel themselves, and attached them to a frame. A carbon double bond serves as an axle between two wheels; when the entire unit is zapped with electricity, the double bond becomes a single bond. This contorts the axle, rotating the wheels and propelling the car forward, researchers report in the Nov. 10 Nature. In test drives on a copper surface the car went as far as 20 nanometers, says organic chemist Ben Feringa — about 10 car lengths.

Designing a contraption that will do your bidding in the nanoworld is not so easy, says Feringa, of the University of

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