Nanotechnology Now

Our NanoNews Digest Sponsors

Heifer International

Wikipedia Affiliate Button

Home > Press > Chemist Aims to Turn Molecules Into Motors

Tufts University assistant professor Charles Sykes and two graduate students, Erin Iski and April Jewell, use a scanning tunneling microscope (STM) in their lab at Tufts University.

Credit: Joanie Tobin/Tufts University Photography
Tufts University assistant professor Charles Sykes and two graduate students, Erin Iski and April Jewell, use a scanning tunneling microscope (STM) in their lab at Tufts University. Credit: Joanie Tobin/Tufts University Photography

Abstract:
Charles Sykes and his team use scanning tunneling microscopes to study novel molecular motors and rotors

Chemist Aims to Turn Molecules Into Motors

Arlington, VA | Posted on July 30th, 2009

When Charles Sykes, Tufts University assistant chemistry professor, says he loves playing with blocks, he's not referring to the typical kids' toys. Instead, he's talking about his fascination with seeing atoms and molecules move on a computer screen in front of him and using technology to move the molecules himself to see how they react to various surfaces.

"I never get bored looking at pictures of atoms," said Sykes, who holds the Usen Family Career Development Assistant Professorship at Tufts University. "Atoms and molecules are the building blocks of life, but it has only been in the last 25 years that we have been able to see them, and in the last 15 years that we have been able to play with them."

In the lab, Sykes and his students explore questions related to nanoscience, or the study of things that are one billionth of a meter in size--80,000 times thinner than a human hair. To see molecules, the group uses scanning tunneling microscopes (STMs), which use electrons instead of light to make it possible to see things as small as individual atoms.

The goal is to understand how atoms and molecules interact with surfaces, and to build novel nanoscale structures by controlling these interactions. Theoretically, each molecule could be assigned a single task, creating ultra-tiny devices more than 10 million times smaller than some of the gadgets we use today, Sykes explained.

"Such machines are seen everywhere in nature. They perform tasks as varied as powering the motion of cells and even driving whole body locomotion through muscle contraction. However, mankind has not been able to create this molecular motion in nanoscale devices," said Sykes.

That means the first step for the Sykes' team is to turn molecules into motors.

While using the STM to look at sulfur-containing molecules, Sykes noticed they resembled an axle with a blade, much like a helicopter rotor. He began to wonder if they not only looked like rotors, but moved like rotors as well.

To test their motion, the researchers took small, simple molecules called thioethers, which are just one nanometer wide and composed of two, four-atom carbon chains on either side of a sulfur atom. Using liquid helium and a low-temperature STM, the researchers cooled the thioethers to seven degrees Kelvin (K), or about minus 447 degrees Fahrenheit (F), and could see that each molecule looked like a line or a thin oval. As the temperature increased to 25 degrees K (or minus 415 degrees F), the molecule began to look more like a hexagon because it was spinning so rapidly, similar to a helicopter blade.

"We discovered that, at very low temperatures, the molecules transition between a locked or 'frozen' state to one in which they spin at more than 1 million times per second," Sykes explained.

Next, the researchers tried to start and stop the spinning molecules. With the STM, they took an individual, spinning molecule and dragged it to a group of three molecules joined together that were not spinning. The individual molecule locked onto the group of three and stopped spinning. Similarly, the researchers took locked molecules and separated them, which caused each to start spinning.

The potential for one spinning molecule to cause a chain reaction and get other molecules to spin could find real-world applications in delay lines, commonly used in cellular phones to transmit signals, or in other electronics and optoelectronics.

In January, Sykes received a five-year Faculty Early Career Development (CAREER) award from the National Science Foundation (NSF) that will allow him to continue his research into molecular rotation. The researchers must answer additional questions related to molecular direction and speed before being able to predict how these nanoscale structures might behave.

He also hopes to get a wider audience interested in what he considers a fascinating field. To accomplish this, Sykes and his graduate students have made a YouTube video on using nanotechnology for alternative energy sources and they have visited high school chemistry classes with a portable STM.

"I think if you get people at the right stage in their career to become interested in something like science, you can possibly change their path," said Sykes.

-- Suzanne C. Miller, Tufts University

This Behind the Scenes article was provided to LiveScience in partnership with the National Science Foundation.

Investigators
E. Charles Sykes

Related Institutions/Organizations
Tufts University

Locations
Massachusetts

Related Programs
Faculty Early Career Development (CAREER) Program

Related Awards
#0844343 CAREER: Investigating and Controlling Molecular Rotation on Surfaces

Total Grants
$280,952

Related Websites
LiveScience.com: Behind the Scenes: Chemist Aims to Turn Molecules Into Motors: www.livescience.com/technology/090710-bts-nanomotors.html

####

About National Science Foundation
The National Science Foundation (NSF) is an independent federal agency created by Congress in 1950 "to promote the progress of science; to advance the national health, prosperity, and welfare; to secure the national defense…" With an annual budget of about $6.06 billion, we are the funding source for approximately 20 percent of all federally supported basic research conducted by America's colleges and universities. In many fields such as mathematics, computer science and the social sciences, NSF is the major source of federal backing.

For more information, please click here

Contacts:
Suzanne C. Miller
Tufts University

Copyright © National Science Foundation

If you have a comment, please Contact us.

Issuers of news releases, not 7th Wave, Inc. or Nanotechnology Now, are solely responsible for the accuracy of the content.

Bookmark:
Delicious Digg Newsvine Google Yahoo Reddit Magnoliacom Furl Facebook

Related Links

More Images

Related News Press

News and information

Ultracold atom waves may shed light on rogue ocean killers: Rice quantum experiments probe underlying physics of rogue ocean waves April 27th, 2017

Looking for the quantum frontier: Beyond classical computing without fault-tolerance? April 27th, 2017

Metal nanoparticles induced visible-light photocatalysis: Mechanisms, applications, ways of promoting catalytic activity and outlook April 27th, 2017

Arrowhead Pharmaceuticals to Webcast Fiscal 2017 Second Quarter Results April 27th, 2017

Possible Futures

Looking for the quantum frontier: Beyond classical computing without fault-tolerance? April 27th, 2017

Video captures bubble-blowing battery in action: Researchers propose how bubbles form, could lead to smaller lithium-air batteries April 26th, 2017

California Research Alliance by BASF establishes more than 25 research projects in three years April 26th, 2017

Geoffrey Beach: Drawn to explore magnetism: Materials researcher is working on the magnetic memory of the future April 25th, 2017

Molecular Machines

First 3-D observation of nanomachines working inside cells: Researchers headed by IRB Barcelona combine genetic engineering, super-resolution microscopy and biocomputation to allow them to see in 3-D the protein machinery inside living cells January 27th, 2017

Micro-bubbles make big impact: Research team develops new ultrasound-powered actuator to develop micro robot November 25th, 2016

Scientists come up with light-driven motors to power nanorobots of the future: Researchers from Russia and Ukraine propose a nanosized motor controlled by a laser with potential applications across the natural sciences and medicine November 11th, 2016

HKU chemists develop world's first light-seeking synthetic Nanorobot November 9th, 2016

Nanoelectronics

Researchers “iron out” graphene’s wrinkles: New technique produces highly conductive graphene wafers April 3rd, 2017

A big leap toward tinier lines: Self-assembly technique could lead to long-awaited, simple method for making smaller microchip patterns March 27th, 2017

Scientists discover new 'boat' form of promising semiconductor: GeSe Uncommon form attenuates semiconductor's band gap size March 23rd, 2017

UC researchers use gold coating to control luminescence of nanowires: University of Cincinnati physicists manipulate nanowire semiconductors in pursuit of making electronics smaller, faster and cheaper March 17th, 2017

Announcements

Ultracold atom waves may shed light on rogue ocean killers: Rice quantum experiments probe underlying physics of rogue ocean waves April 27th, 2017

Looking for the quantum frontier: Beyond classical computing without fault-tolerance? April 27th, 2017

Metal nanoparticles induced visible-light photocatalysis: Mechanisms, applications, ways of promoting catalytic activity and outlook April 27th, 2017

Arrowhead Pharmaceuticals to Webcast Fiscal 2017 Second Quarter Results April 27th, 2017

Tools

New Product Nanoparticle preparation from Intertronics with new Thinky NP-100 Nano Pulveriser April 26th, 2017

Affordable STM32 Cloud-Connectable Kit from STMicroelectronics Puts More Features On-Board for Fast and Flexible IoT-Device Development April 26th, 2017

Geoffrey Beach: Drawn to explore magnetism: Materials researcher is working on the magnetic memory of the future April 25th, 2017

NanoMONITOR shares its latest developments concerning the NanoMONITOR Software and the Monitoring stations April 21st, 2017

Grants/Sponsored Research/Awards/Scholarships/Gifts/Contests/Honors/Records

Ultracold atom waves may shed light on rogue ocean killers: Rice quantum experiments probe underlying physics of rogue ocean waves April 27th, 2017

Video captures bubble-blowing battery in action: Researchers propose how bubbles form, could lead to smaller lithium-air batteries April 26th, 2017

Nanoparticle vaccine shows potential as immunotherapy to fight multiple cancer types April 24th, 2017

SUNY Polytechnic Institute Announces Total of 172 Teams Selected to Compete in Solar in Your Community Challenge: Teams from 40 states, plus Washington, DC, 2 Territories, and 4 American Indian Reservations, Will Deploy Solar in Underserved Communities April 20th, 2017

Photonics/Optics/Lasers

Using light to propel water : With new method, MIT engineers can control and separate fluids on a surface using only visible light April 25th, 2017

Method improves semiconductor fiber optics, paves way for developing devices April 16th, 2017

AIM Photonics Presents Cutting-Edge Integrated Photonics Technology Developments to Packed House at OFC 2017, the Optical Networking and Communication Conference & Exhibition April 11th, 2017

Photonics breakthough paving the way for improved wireless communication systems: The work could bolster the wireless revolution underway with efficiencies several orders of magnitude April 5th, 2017

NanoNews-Digest
The latest news from around the world, FREE



  Premium Products
NanoNews-Custom
Only the news you want to read!
 Learn More
NanoTech-Transfer
University Technology Transfer & Patents
 Learn More
NanoStrategies
Full-service, expert consulting
 Learn More











ASP
Nanotechnology Now Featured Books




NNN

The Hunger Project