Any future artificial transporters and robots operating at the nanoscale are likely to require molecules capable of directional translational movement over a surface. Even the design of such molecules is a daunting task, however, as they need to be able to use light, chemical or electrical energy to modulate their interaction with the surface in a way that generates directional motion. Kudernac et al . now unveil just such a molecule, made by attaching four rotary motor units to a central axis. Inelastic electron tunnelling induces conformational changes in the rotors and propels the molecule across a copper surface. By changing the direction of the rotary motion of individual motor units, the self-propelling molecular 'four-wheeler' structure can follow random or preferentially linear trajectories. This design provides a starting point for the exploration of more sophisticated molecular mechanical systems, perhaps with complete control over their direction of motion. | Movie (Credit: Nopporn Ruangsupapichat) »
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