Friday, April 14, 2017

Off to the Nano Races

Japanese team to compete in world’s smallest car race

The Japan Times  by SHINICHI MISHIMA/ Staff Writer  April 13, 2017

A graphic model of a molecular car of the Japanese team (Provided by the National Institute for Materials Science)

TSUKUBA, Ibaraki Prefecture--Competitors in the world’s first-ever Nanocar Race might be microscopic, but the event promises to be a big deal--and Japan is in the running to claim this smallest of victories.

The race in Toulouse, France, on April 28-29 features “vehicles” built from just dozens to a few hundred atoms each. They measure just a few nanometers, lengthway and across. A nanometer is one billionth of a meter.

Nanotechnology experts from the National Institute for Materials Science (NIMS) here formed the country’s team.

Waka Nakanishi holds a ball-and-stick model of her team's molecular car at the National Institute for Materials Science in Tsukuba, Ibaraki Prefecture. (Shinichi Mishima)

While some overseas teams have designed cars with wheels, the Japanese team's vehicle moves forward by flapping two sets of two wings on its right and left sides. It is made of 88 atoms of carbon, hydrogen and oxygen.

The vehicles are propelled by applying electrical stimulation to them.

The racecourse is built on the naturally occurring grooves on the surface of a circular gold plate with an 8-millimeter diameter. With a time limit of 36 hours, the first team to finish the 100-nanometer course will win the race.

According to Waka Nakanishi, 39, Japanese team leader and a senior researcher at NIMS, controlling the movements of molecular cars is like controlling a baseball on the Earth from space, and the event will be closer to an endurance test than a Formula One race.

Nakanishi is confident that her team’s car will be the best.

A graphic model of a four-wheeled molecular car of the Ohio University team from the United States (Provided by the National Institute for Materials Science and National Center for Scientific Research, France)

“In the world of nano, the surface of gold is uneven and bumpy. We will prove our car is faster than the wheeled designs of overseas teams,” she said.

The Nanocar Race, organized by France’s National Center for Scientific Research (CNRS), will see six teams competing, one each from France, Germany, the United States, Austria, Switzerland and Japan.

The Japanese team is sponsored by Toyota Motor Corp., and some other teams are also sponsored by major automakers from their countries.

A graphic model of a molecular car of the Dresden Technical University team from Germany (Provided by the National Institute for Materials Science and National Center for Scientific Research, France)

The objective of the race is to hone skills in designing and controlling “molecular machines,” a realm of science to freely control the movement of mechanical molecules, which has been attracting attention for possible application in medicine and other fields.

Spectators can watch the race through special microscopes set over the racecourse plate.

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