Nano-car race in France to be world's first

Scientists looking at control computer screens from which the "drivers" will supervise the nano-cars. Each ultra-miniature car will be built from just hundreds of atoms grouped together to form the engine, body, wheels and pedals.
Scientists looking at control computer screens from which the "drivers" will supervise the nano-cars. Each ultra-miniature car will be built from just hundreds of atoms grouped together to form the engine, body, wheels and pedals.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

PARIS • Microscopic molecular vehicles piloted by chemists and physicists will line up at the world's first nano-car race in France this month - but don't expect to see anything with the naked eye.

Teams from France, Germany, Japan, Switzerland, the United States and a joint Austrian-American group have qualified, but only four will get to compete in the race held from April 28 to 29, organisers of the race said on Tuesday.

Sponsored by France's National Centre for Scientific Research (CNRS), the race will take place at one of its laboratories in Toulouse, in south-western France, and will be streamed live on YouTube.

Each ultra-miniature car will be built from just hundreds of atoms grouped together to form the engine, body, wheels and pedals.

Instead of holding a steering wheel, scientists will manoeuvre a microscope equipped with four needle-like metal tips that generate an electric current. The white-gowned "drivers" will poke the nano-cars with the energy-inducing instruments to propel them across a racetrack made from gold.

It will take the nano-cars at least 36 hours to reach the finishing line after covering 100 nanometres - one-thousandth the width of a human hair strand. A couple of 40-degree and 45-degree turns are thrown in to make things interesting.

"The tip will provide the fuel to move the molecule," said director of the CNRS' physics unit Alain Schuhl.

The race will not exactly be a high-speed chase with hairpin turns. It will take the nano-cars at least 36 hours to reach the finishing line after covering 100 nanometres - one-thousandth the width of a human hair strand. A couple of 40-degree and 45-degree turns are thrown in to make things interesting.

The golden surface on which the nano-cars will race is 50,000 times thinner than a line drawn by a pen. To get to the finishing line, the scientists will have to apply an average of 400 to 500 electrical discharges of one to two volts each, without breaking the molecule.

Once scientists can handle these cars like getaway drivers, said race director Christian Joachim, "we'll be able to create super-miniature motors for all sorts of applications".

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 06, 2017, with the headline 'Nano-car race in France to be world's first'. Print Edition | Subscribe