A key technological breakthrough led by the University of Edinburgh suggests that a futuristic world where people can move objects about ‘remotely’ with laser pointers could be closer than we think. Chemists working on the nanoscale (80,000 times smaller than a hair’s breadth) have managed to move a tiny droplet of liquid across a surface – and even up a slope – by transporting it along a layer of light-sensitive molecules.
Scientists at Edinburgh, Groningen and Bologna are the first to manipulate tiny nanoscale machines (two millionths of a millimetre high) so that they can move an object that is visible to the naked eye. The team has shifted microlitre drops of diiodomethane not just across a flat surface, but also up a one millimetre, 12 degree slope against the force of gravity. It may be the tiniest of movements, but, in the emerging discipline of nanotechnology, it represents a giant technological leap forward.
Although many scientists are working with so-called ‘molecular machines’ – a process which involves making the parts of molecules move in a controlled fashion – the Edinburgh-led team is the first to make these machines interact with ‘real world’ objects. Until now, molecular machines have operated in isolation within the laboratory, but this latest piece of research brings them into contact with the everyday world around us.
Ronald Kerr | alfa
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