The Nobel Prize for Chemistry went to the world’s smallest machines

The Nobel Prize for Chemistry went to the world’s smallest machines

The creators of the world’s tiniest machines have been awarded the 2016 Nobel Prize for Chemistry.


The tiny molecular machines are a thousand times thinner than a strand of hair. They can be easily inserted inside the human body to deliver drugs from within – example, applying pharmaceuticals directly to cancer cells, or the molecular machines can simply contribute to the functioning of “smart” technologies.

Jean-Pierre Sauvage, Sir Fraser Stoddart and Bernard Feringa will share the 8 million Swedish kronor ($930,000) prize for the design and synthesis of machines on a molecular scale.

Sauvage, the emeritus professor at the University of Strasbourg and director of research emeritus at the French National Centre for Scientific Research (CNRS), had been researching on the use of sunlight to drive chemical reactions, and its understanding has helped him link different molecules together in a chain.

Stoddart, who is currently affiliated to the Northwestern University (in the US), threaded a molecular ring on to a microscopic rod-like structure that acted as an axle, and when he added heat, the ring jumped backwards and forwards acting like a tiny shuttle. From that point, his group built numerous molecular machines based on that discovery.

Feringa is a professor in organic chemistry at the University of Groningen, the Netherlands. In 1999, Prof Feringa led the first research to produce a molecular motor that continually spins in the same direction. And then in 2011, his group built a four-wheel-drive nanocar: a molecular chassis holding together four motors that functioned as wheels. “I feel a little bit like the Wright Brothers who were flying 100 years ago for the first time and people were saying why do we need a flying machine and now we have a Boeing 747 and an Airbus,” Feringa said of the Nobel prize in the BBC interview.

The academy awarded the Nobel Prize to these three scientists because they were the frontrunners in the second wave of nanotechnology, which had been initially pioneered in the 1950s by physicist Richard Feynman.

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