Minuscule machines earn trio 2016 chemistry Nobel

illustration of molecular car

IT’S A SMALL WORLD  The creators of mini machines, such as this four-wheeled, nanoscale car, have earned the 2016 Nobel Prize in chemistry. The microscopic automobile rolls across a surface when electricity contorts each wheel’s axle.


The world’s most minuscule machines operate on the molecular level and have won their creators the 2016 Nobel Prize in chemistry. The prize is shared between Jean-Pierre Sauvage of the University of Strasbourg in France, J. Fraser Stoddart of Northwestern University in Evanston, Ill., and Bernard Feringa of the University of Groningen in the Netherlands.

Sauvage and colleagues first linked two ring-shaped molecules together in 1983 to form a necklacelike chain. In 1991, Stoddart’s team created an atom-scale axle, paving the way to build molecular “muscles” and “elevators.” Through electrochemistry, Feringa and colleagues powered up the first light-powered molecular motor in 1999 and even designed a four-wheel drive, nano-sized car.

These fantastic machines have opened up the molecular world to manipulating and moving objects at the smallest levels imaginable. There are “endless opportunities,” Feringa said in a phone interview during the announcement ceremony.

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