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Race to the finish: Nanocar competition

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Tiny molecular machines will compete against each other over a minuscule racecourse made of gold atoms

London: Scientists are organising the world’s first nanocar race next month in France, where tiny molecular machines will compete against each other over a minuscule racecourse made of gold atoms. The international molecule-car race is being organised by the National Centre for Scientific Research (CNRS) in France.

The vehicles, which consist of a few hundred atoms, will be powered by minute electrical pulses during the 36 hours of the race, in which they must navigate a racecourse made of gold atoms, measuring a maximum of a 100 nanometres in length.


They will square off beneath the four tips of a unique microscope located at CNRS’s CEMES research centre in Toulouse. The race is first and foremost a scientific and technological challenge, and will be broadcast live on the YouTube Nanocar Race channel.

Beyond the competition, the overarching objective is to advance research in the observation and control of molecule-machines, researchers said. More than just a competition, the Nanocar Race is an international scientific experiment that will be conducted in real time, with the aim of testing the performance of molecule-machines and the scientific instruments used to control them.

The years ahead will probably see the use of such molecular machinery in the manufacture of common machines: atom-by-atom construction of electronic circuits, atom-by-atom deconstruction of industrial waste, capture of energy etc. The Nanocar Race is therefore a unique opportunity for researchers to implement cutting-edge techniques for the simultaneous observation and independent manoeuvring of such nano-machines.

Four teams will take their place at the 4-tip microscope’s starting line on April 28 for the 36-hour race in Toulouse. The challenges facing researchers in the race will be so many steps forward in novel fields in chemistry and physics.