World's smallest motor
World's smallest electric motor

Nano technology has hit new heights as researchers at Turf's University claim to have built the world's smallest motor made of one single molecule.

The motor, which has been submitted to the Guinness World Records, is measured at 1 nanometer across, which multiplied by about 60,000 equates to the width of a human hair thread.

The research led by Charlie Sykes, associate professor of Chemistry at Tufts, found that a single molecule can be powered by a beam of electrons from an electron microscope.

This is the first of its kind according to Sykes. There has been significant progress in the construction of molecular motors powered by light and by chemical reactions, but this is the first time that electrically-driven molecular motors have been demonstrated, despite a few theoretical proposals, he said. We have been able to show that you can provide electricity to a single molecule and get it to do something that is not just random.

The team of researchers used a state of the art, low temperature scanning tunneling microscope, to control a molecular motor with electricity. They found that by controlling the temperature of the molecule they could directly impact its rotation.

Temperatures around 5 Kelvin (K), or about minus 450 degrees Fahrenheit (ºF), proved to be the ideal to track the motor's motion. At this temperature, the Tufts researchers were able to track all of the rotations of the motor and analyze the data.

The researchers did struggle on the higher temperatures as the motor spins much harder which makes it difficult to control the rotation.

Once we have a better grasp on the temperatures necessary to make these motors function, there could be real-world application in some sensing and medical devices which involve tiny pipes, Sykes said adding that friction of the fluid against the pipe walls increases at these small scales, and covering the wall with motors could help drive fluids along.

Coupling molecular motion with electrical signals could also create miniature gears in nanoscale electrical circuits; these gears could be used in miniature delay lines, which are used in devices like cell phones, Sykes said.

The new motor could potentially create a new class of devices that could be used in applications ranging from medicine to engineering, according to the study.