October 05, 2006

Molecular motors, machines and valves

Thanks to Foresight nanodot for pointing out this Nature article about molecular motors, machines, and valves

The exquisite solutions nature has found to control molecular motion, evident in the fascinating biological linear and rotary motors, has served as a major source of inspiration for scientists to conceptualize, design and build — using a bottom-up approach — entirely synthetic molecular machines. The desire, ultimately, to construct and control molecular machines, fuels one of the great endeavours of contemporary science. The first primitive artificial molecular motors have been constructed and it has been demonstrated that energy consumption can be used to induce controlled and unidirectional motion. Linear and rotary molecular motors have been anchored to surfaces without loss of function — a significant step towards future nanomachines and devices. Furthermore, it has been demonstrated unequivocally that both linear and rotary motors can perform work and can move objects. However, although the first applications of molecular motors to the control of other functions have been realized, the whole field is still very much in its infancy and offers ample opportunity in the design of nanomechanical devices.

Major challenges in the development of useful nanomachines remain, such as the development of fast and repetitive movement over longer time frames, directional movement along specified trajectories, integration of fully functional molecular motors in nanomachines and devices, catalytic molecular motors, systems that can transport cargo and so on. As complexity increases in these dynamic nanosystems, mastery of structure, function and communication across the traditional scientific boundaries will prove essential and indeed will serve to stimulate many areas of the synthetic, analytical and physical sciences. In view of the wide range of functions that biological motors play in nature and the role that macroscopic motors and machines play in daily life, the current limitation to the development and application of synthetic molecular machines and motors is perhaps only the imagination of the nanomotorists themselves.