Sunlight prompts a newly developed molecular nanomotor to unclasp in this artist’s illustration. In a paper expected to appear soon in the online edition of the journal Nano Letters, a team of researchers from the University of Florida reports building a new type of “molecular nanomotor” driven only by photons, or particles of light. While it is not the first photon-driven nanomotor, the almost infinitesimal device is the first built entirely with a single molecule of DNA – giving it a simplicity that increases its potential for development, manufacture and real-world applications in areas ranging from medicine to manufacturing, the scientists say.
In a paper expected to appear soon in the online edition of the journal Nano Letters, the University of Florida team reports building a new type of “molecular nanomotor” driven only by photons, or particles of light. While it is not the first photon-driven nanomotor, the almost infinitesimal device is the first built entirely with a single molecule of DNA — giving it a simplicity that increases its potential for development, manufacture and real-world applications in areas ranging from medicine to manufacturing, the scientists say.
In its clasped, or closed, form, the nanomotor measures 2 to 5 nanometers — 2 to 5 billionths of a meter. In its unclasped form, it extends as long as 10 to 12 nanometers. Although the scientists say their calculations show it uses considerably more of the energy in light than traditional solar cells, the amount of force it exerts is proportional to its small size.
Applications in the larger world are more distant. Powering a vehicle, running an assembly line or otherwise replacing traditional electricity or fossil fuels would require untold trillions of nanomotors, all working together in tandem — a difficult challenge by any measure.
“The major difficulty lies ahead,” said Weihong Tan, a UF professor of chemistry and physiology, author of the paper and the leader of the research group reporting the findings. “That is how to collect the molecular level force into a coherent accumulated force that can do real work when the motor absorbs sunlight.”
Tan added that the group has already begun working on the problem.
“Some prototype DNA nanostructures incorporating single photo-switchable motors are in the making which will synchronize molecular motions to accumulate forces,” he said.
To make the nanomotor, the researchers combined a DNA molecule they created in the lab with azobenzene, a chemical compound that responds to light. A high-energy photon prompts one response; lower energy another.
To demonstrate the movement, the researchers attached a fluorophore, or light-emitter, to one end of the nanomotor and a quencher, which can quench the emitting light, to the other end. Their instruments recorded emitted light intensity that corresponded to the motor movement.
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