A gel which can be shrunk by light-powered molecular motors has become the first ever material to change its shape because of microscopic nanomachines.
For the first time, the revolutionary gel gives researchers a way to use the motion of molecular machines in the real world.
‘To bridge motions between the nanometric scale and the macroscopic scale, that’s really the fundamental question behind the research,’ said lead researcher Professor Nicolas Giuseppone, from the University of Strasbourg in France, whose work was part-funded by the European Research Council. ‘It’s a question that nanotech researchers have been asking themselves for a number of years.’
A gel is normally made of a network of molecular chains connected through nodes. Prof. Giuseppone and his team from the Institut Charles Sadron at France’s national research centre CNRS used rotary molecular motors as the nodes.
Eight orders of magnitude
That means the molecular motors continuously wind up the filaments, amplifying their movement by eight orders of magnitude, and resulting in the gel shrinking by several centimetres.
‘We are demonstrating a way to put them together and on that basis we can create materials which can produce movement at our scale,’ Prof. Giuseppone said. ‘We will have materials that are no longer static.’ Professor Nicolas Giuseppone, CNRS / University of Strasbourg, France.
‘We will have materials that are no longer static.’
Professor Nicolas Giuseppone, CNRS / University of Strasbourg, France.
The study, published in the journal Nature Nanotechnology, will enable the development of a new type of material. ‘We will have materials that are no longer static, but in a non-equilibrium dynamic,’ explained Prof. Giuseppone. ‘We could make artificial muscles.’
As the molecular motors are powered by light, the gel could also allow researchers to develop technology to store solar energy. That’s important because at the moment there is no easy way to keep power from solar panels.
However, Prof. Giuseppone cautions that it’ll take five to 10 years before this technology is ready for use in commercial products.
‘The next step is to make movements that are more controlled, for the moment we have a universal contraction but what we want is a directional contraction with controlled speed and power,’ said Prof. Giuseppone. ‘The other thing we are going to do is to try to reuse the energy that is stored inside the material.’
This video explains how the technique works. Video © Gad Fuks/Nicolas Giuseppone/Mathieu Lejeune
From rubber dandelions and toxic crustaceans to anti-vaxxers and the world’s hottest geothermal well, Horizon covered a wide variety of stories in 2017. Here are our 10 favourite science facts that we learned along the way.
Scientists in the Middle East are putting politics aside and using the region’s new particle accelerator, SESAME, to collaborate on experiments such as distinguishing between benign and malignant cancer tissues, and analysing historical parchments from religious texts, according to Dr Gihan Kamel, the infrared beamline scientist at the facility. She will be speaking at a session on science diplomacy at the World Science Forum in Jordan on 10 November with Carlos Moedas, the European Commissioner for Research, Science and Innovation.
Swarms of firefighting drones could one day be deployed to tackle hugely destructive megafires that are becoming increasingly frequent in the Mediterranean region because of climate change, arson and poor landscape management.
The challenge of how to rebuild society following conflict is a difficult question that arises all too frequently, but recent studies have demonstrated that putting people at the centre of the process and enabling cooperation on politically neutral issues can help build peace.
Large fires are increasingly common in the Mediterranean region.
Where does one start to fix a broken society?
Destruction of cultural heritage sites can be a war crime as they form part of people's emotional landscape, according to Dr Margarete van Ess.