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Macroscopic contraction of a gel induced by the integrated motion of light-driven molecular motors


Making molecular machines that can be useful in the macroscopic world is a challenging long-term goal of nanoscience1. Inspired by the protein machinery found in biological systems2,3, and based on the theoretical understanding of the physics of motion at the nanoscale4,5, organic chemists have developed a number of molecules that can produce work by contraction or rotation when triggered by various external chemical or physical stimuli6,7,8,9. In particular, basic molecular switches that commute between at least two thermodynamic minima and more advanced molecular motors that behave as dissipative units working far from equilibrium when fuelled with external energy10,11,12,13 have been reported. However, despite recent progress14,15,16,17, the ultimate challenge of coordinating individual molecular motors in a continuous mechanical process that can have a measurable effect at the macroscale has remained elusive18,19. Here, we show that by integrating light-driven unidirectional molecular rotors as reticulating units in a polymer gel, it is possible to amplify their individual motions to achieve macroscopic contraction of the material. Our system uses the incoming light to operate under far-from-equilibrium conditions, and the work produced by the motor in the photostationary state is used to twist the entangled polymer chains up to the collapse of the gel. Our design could be a starting point to integrate nanomotors in metastable materials to store energy and eventually to convert it.

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Figure 1: General chemical design to access enantiopure polymer–motor conjugates.
Figure 2: Characterization of mechanically active 8-shaped polymer–motor conjugates.
Figure 3: Macroscopic behaviour of a mechanically active gel based on a chemically crosslinked polymer–motor conjugate system.
Figure 4: Micro- and nanoscopic characterizations of mechanically active gels based on chemically crosslinked polymer–motor conjugates.


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The research leading to these results received funding from the European Research Council under the European Community's Seventh Framework Program (FP7/2007-2013)/ERC Starting Grant agreement no. 257099 (N.G.). The authors thank ANR (project INTEGRATIONS) for financial support. The authors acknowledge the Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique (CNRS), the COST action (CM 1304), the International Center for Frontier Research in Chemistry (icFRC), the Laboratory of Excellence for Complex System Chemistry (LabEx CSC), the University of Strasbourg (UdS) and the Institut Universitaire de France (IUF). Q.L. acknowledges the China Scholarship Council (CSC) for a doctoral fellowship. The authors also thank M. Archimbaud for HPLC purifications, G. Fleith for SAXS experiments, as well as R. Liu and T. Ellis for technical help at various stages.

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Authors and Affiliations



N.G. directed the work. G.F., E.M., I.K. and N.G. conceived the work. Q.L., G.F., E.M. and N.G. designed the synthesis. Q.L. and J.F. performed the synthesis and Q.L. performed the main chemical analyses and contraction experiments. M.M. performed AFM imaging. M.R. performed and analysed the X-ray scattering experiments. L.Q., M.R. and N.G. developed the contraction model. N.G. wrote the paper, and all authors commented on the manuscript.

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Correspondence to Nicolas Giuseppone.

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The authors declare no competing financial interests.

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Li, Q., Fuks, G., Moulin, E. et al. Macroscopic contraction of a gel induced by the integrated motion of light-driven molecular motors. Nature Nanotech 10, 161–165 (2015).

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