The first international nanocar race in Toulouse pitted scientists from Germany, France, Japan, the USA, Austria and Switzerland against each other, revealed the University of Basel. They each had an incredible 38 hours to conduct a single molecule along a gold-surfaced racing track with two bends and a length of just 100 nanometres – one nanometer equates to a millionth of a millimetre.
The challenge is not as easy as it sounds, explained the University of Basel. The nanocars must be moved by the marginal electrical current from the tip of a scanning tunneling microscope. At the same time, the microscope tip must be kept very close to the molecule car, with the size ratio between the two proportionally comparable to the Matterhorn and a table tennis ball.
Succeeding to complete the 100 nanometres in just eight hours were pilots Tobias Meier and Rémy Pawlak from Ernst Meyer’s research team at the Swiss Nanoscience Institute and the University of Basel’s Department of Physics. Compared to the competition, the victorious Swiss nanocar comprised just one extremely tiny molecule.
“Our idea was to minimise the friction between the nanocar and the surface, and to glide our nanocar across the surface like a hovercraft,” explained Rémy Pawlak.