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Nanodragsters Hit the Street

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Image Credit: Rice University

The latest work in a series of molecular machines that began with 2005's nanocar has produced what Rice University scientists James Tour and Kevin Kelly call a nanodragster for its characteristic hot-rod shape, with small wheels on a short axle in the front and large wheels on a long axle in the back. Their research is another step toward functional nanomachines that can be custom-built and set to work in microelectronics and other applications. What those wheels are made of matters most. Early nanocars rolled on simple carbon 60 molecules, aka buckyballs. But they were a drag, literally, as they would only turn on a gold surface in high heat, about 200 degrees Celsius. The Rice team found in previous research that wheels made of p-carborane, a cluster of carbon and boron atoms, operate at much lower temperatures. But they're more difficult to image with a scanning tunneling microscope because of their much weaker interaction with metallic surfaces. The key to making nanodragsters was putting p-carborane wheels in the front and buckyballs in the back, getting the advantages of both. The front wheels roll easier, while the buckyballs grip the gold roadway well enough to be imaged. And the vehicle operates at a much lower temperature than previous nanovehicles.
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