A German team has created a gear of 71 atoms, 1/50 000th the thickness of a human hair, and with its help it manages to drive a second, toothed nanowheel. This is an important step towards molecular micromachining.

Miniaturization isn’t just about getting smaller computers. Today is also an attempt to create molecular machines that are invisible to the naked eye. Nanotechnologists work on microscopic nanorotors, switches, knobs and levers. Even the Nobel Committee recently recognized this field – for the design and synthesis of molecular machines, Jean-Pierre Sauvage was awarded the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 2016.

Scientists from Friedrich-Alexander University in Erlangen and Nuremberg (FAU) have described the world’s smallest gear system. Nanogears will be needed to set different elements of molecular machines in motion and control their operation. The presented gear, according to its designers, is the first gear that can be actively driven and whose movement can be controlled.

It consists of only 71 atoms and measures 1.6 nanometers, which is about 1/50,000th the thickness of a human hair. One part is flat and the other part looks like a bucket wheel (https://www.fau.eu/files/2022/04/animation_photogear_bv_anim-1366×570-1.gif). When the flat element rotates 180 degrees, the other part – the energy vector – changes direction by 120 degrees. This means that the gear ratio is 2:5.

The rack is easily moved here. Well, it interacts with the energy of light. Researchers tried to use thermal energy, but it turned out to be insufficient. Due to the heat, the flat part of the rack was moved, which was turned off. However, light can also be easily supplied to the device under most conditions.

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More information: https://www.fau.eu/2022/04/27/news/research/small-mini-nano-the-worlds-smallest-gear-wheel/

Marek Matakz

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