Friday, November 6, 2009
Nanocars and such
I was asked at dinner tonight about Dr Jim Tour's work on Nanocars by a nonscientist. What I said is that Jim Tour's research on nanocars really highlights how creative minds can envision chemical structures, synthesize them, and then see them in real time because of recent advances in nanotechnology. Dr. Tour takes organic chemistry and makes it interesting by using analogies between nanoscopic molecules and macroscopic things we can see in our everyday life. Nanocars are molecules that have flexible bonds between ring-like structures that can rotate like wheels on a car. Dr. Tour has tested these molecules on various surfaces and used imaging modalities like atomic force microscopy to prove that these molecules do in fact have wheel-like structures that rotate like car tires (he has also synthesized nanoworms or molecules that simply slide across surfaces). What needs to be clarified is that there is not a driver of Dr. Tour's nanocars. These are not nanobots that can be programmed to do a specific function nor can they replicate or be controlled by an outside forces. These nanocars are simply organic molecules that respond to forces like heat and friction to change their conformations (ie. rotate or move) just like any other molecule in the world. It is just that they are synthesized to look like cars and can move across surfaces like roads however they are driven by random thermal energetic forces. They are quite pretty and have an unique ability to engage people in science but just remember, they are molecules that react to physical forces, not magic, not science fiction.