Nobel Prize in Chemistry 2016 goes to the researchers developed the world’s smallest machine

By. Prof. Ibrahim El-Sherbiny, Director of Nanoscience and Materials Science Programs

The 2016 Nobel Prize winners in Chemistry are; Jean-Pierre Sauvage, professor emeritus at University of Strasbourg, France, Sir J. Fraser Stoddart, professor of chemistry at Northwestern University, U.S., and Bernard L. Feringa, Jacobus Van't Hoff distinguished professor of molecular sciences at University of Groningen, the Netherlands, for their work on designing and synthesis of miniaturized machines on the molecular level.

The three scientists succeeded in building molecular-scale machines, such as molecular axles, rings, chains, rotors, and even designed a nano-car, all by using molecules linked together with freer mechanical bonds instead of the strong covalent bonds, that guarantee controlling these molecules movement when energy is applied.

Professor Jean-Pierre Sauvage has started this research direction in 1983 when he succeeded in linking two ring-shaped molecules together in form of a chain, called a catenane. The two interlocked rings were able to move relative to each other when gaining energy, which is a basic requirement for any machine to be able to perform a task. Then, in 1991, Fraser Stoddart developed a rotaxane, in which he synthesized a molecular ring around a thin molecular axle and proved that the ring was able to move along the axle. Later in 1999, Bernard Feringa was the first person to develop a molecular motor, and also designed a nano-car with dimensions 1,000 times thinner than a single hair strand.

The three 2016’s Nobel Laureates and their teams have taken Chemistry to a new dimension. The molecular machines’ future is unlimited with variety of applications that could range from smart and fully controlled drug delivery to computer memory of huge capacity. It would also play a pivotal role in the development of things such as new generations of materials, smart sensors and efficient energy storage systems.