Letter | Published:

Organic electronic ratchets doing work

Nature Materials volume 10, pages 5155 (2011) | Download Citation

  • A Corrigendum to this article was published on 17 December 2010

This article has been updated


The possibility to extract work from periodic, undirected forces has intrigued scientists for over a century—in particular, the rectification of undirected motion of particles by ratchet potentials, which are periodic but asymmetric functions. Introduced by Smoluchowski and Feynman1,2 to study the (dis)ability to generate motion from an equilibrium situation, ratchets operate out of equilibrium, where the second law of thermodynamics no longer applies. Although ratchet systems have been both identified in nature3,4 and used in the laboratory for the directed motion of microscopic objects5,6,7,8,9, electronic ratchets10,11,12,13 have been of limited use, as they typically operate at cryogenic temperatures and generate subnanoampere currents and submillivolt voltages10,11,12,13,14. Here, we present organic electronic ratchets that operate up to radio frequencies at room temperature and generate currents and voltages that are orders of magnitude larger. This enables their use as a d.c. power source. We integrated the ratchets into logic circuits, in which they act as the d.c. equivalent of the a.c. transformer, and generate enough power to drive the circuitry. Our findings show that electronic ratchets may be of actual use.

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Change history

  • 17 December 2010

    In the version of this Letter originally published online, the y-axis of Figure 3b should have read 'Output power (µW)' instead of 'Output power (mW)'. This error has now been corrected in the HTML and PDF versions of the text.


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We thank Dago M. de Leeuw and Simon G. J. Mathijssen for comments and discussions. This research is supported by the Dutch Technology Foundation STW, which is the applied science division of NWO, and the Technology Programme of the Ministry of Economic Affairs (VIDI grant 07575).

Author information


  1. Applied Physics, Eindhoven University of Technology, PO Box 513, 5600 MB, Eindhoven, The Netherlands

    • Erik M. Roeling
    • , Wijnand Chr. Germs
    • , René A. J. Janssen
    •  & Martijn Kemerink
  2. COBRA Research Institute, Eindhoven University of Technology, PO Box 513, 5600 MB, Eindhoven, The Netherlands

    • Barry Smalbrugge
    • , Erik Jan Geluk
    •  & Tjibbe de Vries


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E.M.R., W.C.G. and M.K. designed the experiments. E.M.R. carried out the experiments. E.M.R., W.C.G., R.A.J.J. and M.K. analysed the data. E.M.R. and M.K. made the simulation model and conducted the simulations. E.M.R., W.C.G., R.A.J.J. and M.K. wrote the manuscript. E.M.R., W.C.G., B.S., E.J.G. and T.d.V. fabricated the samples. R.A.J.J. and M.K. supervised the project.

Competing interests

The authors declare no competing financial interests.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Martijn Kemerink.

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