Making molecular machines work


In this review we chart recent advances in what is at once an old and very new field of endeavour — the achievement of control of motion at the molecular level including solid-state and surface-mounted rotors, and its natural progression to the development of synthetic molecular machines. Besides a discussion of design principles used to control linear and rotary motion in such molecular systems, this review will address the advances towards the construction of synthetic machines that can perform useful functions. Approaches taken by several research groups to construct wholly synthetic molecular machines and devices are compared. This will be illustrated with molecular rotors, elevators, valves, transporters, muscles and other motor functions used to develop smart materials. The demonstration of molecular machinery is highlighted through recent examples of systems capable of effecting macroscopic movement through concerted molecular motion. Several approaches to illustrate how molecular motor systems have been used to accomplish work are discussed. We will conclude with prospects for future developments in this exciting field of nanotechnology.

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Figure 1: What makes a molecule a machine?
Figure 2: Examples of non-directionally controlled molecular rotors.
Figure 3: Chemically fuelled autonomously moving objects.
Figure 4: Rotary molecular motors in which a sequence of steps results in a full 360° unidirectional movement around the central axis.
Figure 5: Light-driven unidirectional rotary motors in action.
Figure 6: Synthetic molecular systems designed to achieve translational motion.
Figure 7: Systems designed as multicomponent mechanical machines.
Figure 8: Two approaches to the opening and closing of nanovalves using molecular switches.


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The Authors thank M. M. Pollard for many suggestions and reading of the manuscript.

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Correspondence to Ben L. Feringa.

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Browne, W., Feringa, B. Making molecular machines work. Nature Nanotech 1, 25–35 (2006).

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