Molecules of speed: Races of supercars a few nanometers in size took place in France

(ORDO NEWS) — “Endurance races” are called the “24 Hours of Le Mans” and other competitions, in which races sometimes last the whole day without a break.

The race that took place in the spring of 2022 in France turned out to be such a test: its participants remained on the track for 24 hours, overcoming during this time up to a thousand… nanometers.

However, such a distance is not surprising: molecular machines participated in the races. The first Nanocar Race took place at the Center for Materials and Structural Research (CEMES) in Toulouse back in 2017.

Then the Austrian team NanoPrix became the winner of the race, whose nanocar reached a speed of 95 nm / h.

However, Nanocar Race can be called a race only conditionally: rather, it is a competition of experimental scientists involved in the development of methods and tools for controlling molecular machines.

Specialists need not only to design a suitable car, but also to synthesize it, store it, transfer it, visualize it under a microscope – and, of course, control the movement along the track.

The route for molecular machines is a gold crystalline substrate placed in a deep vacuum at the cryogenic temperature of a tunnel microscope.

An ultra-thin needle – the probe of such an instrument – supplies a weak current, remaining at a short distance from the conductive surface.

This allows you to “scan” it with a resolution to individual molecules and even atoms, or manipulate objects of the appropriate size.

Such energy also set in motion racing nanocars, which moved in a given direction, responding to electrical impulses.

Molecules of speed Races of supercars a few nanometers in size took place in France 2
Race organizers are housed in the spherical Boule (“Ball”) building, which was erected at CEMES back in 1959. Inside, parts of the accelerator from the electron microscope that worked here are still preserved. Now it has been replaced by more modern systems, and parts of the former have become interior elements

The Nanocar Race II was scheduled for 2019, but the pandemic forced the event to be postponed for a couple of years.

Eight teams approached the start of the second race – representatives of different universities and countries, who used nanocars of various designs, with two or four wheels, of various sizes and shapes.

Each fireball was assigned its own tunnel microscope and a gold substrate, on which tracks were drawn – zigzag lines 4–6 nm wide, with turns.

The temperature on the track was brought to -268 ° C, the pressure – up to 10-19 mbar, the racing molecules were put in their places – and on March 24, 2022, the Nanocar Race II races began.

Team members controlled their cars remotely, via the Internet, and the audience followed what was happening in the online broadcast.

Endurance races continued for 24 hours without a break; during this time, participants encountered a range of dangerous situations, from running off the track to accidentally sticking a nanocar to a microscope probe.

The car of the Toulouse-Nara team turned out to be completely lost, which, given its size, is not surprising. And the best in the race were the molecules of the NANOHISPA and NIMS-MANA ​​teams, which “traveled” 54 laps in 24 hours, and NIMS-MANA ​​covered a little more than 1 micron – an incredible distance for a nanocar that blocked the record of the first Nanocar Race.

But the most interesting thing here, perhaps, is that the cars used different principles of movement.

Some nanocars had their own dipole moment, which allowed them to respond to the tunneling current, while others rushed forward under the influence of inelastic tunneling.

Now experts will analyze the results of races so that the nanocars of the future can move faster and more accurately – and not only on a special track, but also wherever they are useful to people.


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