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Dual-light control of nanomachines that integrate motor and modulator subunits

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A current challenge in the field of artificial molecular machines is the synthesis and implementation of systems that can produce useful work when fuelled with a constant source of external energy1,2,3,4,5. The first experimental achievements of this kind consisted of machines with continuous unidirectional rotations6,7,8,9,10,11,12,13,14 and translations15,16,17 that make use of ‘Brownian ratchets’18,19,20,21,22,23,24,25 to bias random motions. An intrinsic limitation of such designs is that an inversion of directionality requires heavy chemical modifications in the structure of the actuating motor part26,27. Here we show that by connecting subunits made of both unidirectional light-driven rotary motors and modulators, which respectively braid and unbraid polymer chains in crosslinked networks, it becomes possible to reverse their integrated motion at all scales. The photostationary state of the system can be tuned by modulation of frequencies using two irradiation wavelengths. Under this out-of-equilibrium condition, the global work output (measured as the contraction or expansion of the material) is controlled by the net flux of clockwise and anticlockwise rotations between the motors and the modulators.

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Figure 1: Functioning principle and chemical design of an integrated motor/modulator system.
Figure 2: Schematic representations of the mechanical topology acting in the gel.
Figure 3: Rotational dynamics in individual modulator subunits.
Figure 4: Actuation at two wavelengths of integrated motor/modulator systems.

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  • 24 March 2017

    In the original version of this Letter a sentence was mistakenly truncated during production. The correct sentence reads 'The basic concept rests on connecting a nanomotor to a releasing elementary unit (that functions as a clutch) within modules that are functionally robust against thermal noise (and here with polymer chains that function as a transmission). This has been corrected in all versions of the Letter.


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The research leading to these results has received funding from the European Research Council (ERC) under the European Community's Seventh Framework Program (FP7/2007-2013)/ERC Starting Grant agreement no. 257099 (N.G.). We thank the French National Research Agency (ANR, project INTEGRATIONS) for financial support. We also thank the Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique, European Cooperation in Science and Technology action (CM 1304), the International Center for Frontier Research in Chemistry, the Laboratory of Excellence for Complex System Chemistry, the University of Strasbourg and the Institut Universitaire de France. Q.L. thanks the China Scholarship Council for a doctoral fellowship. We are grateful to G. Strub for manufacturing the moulds to shape the gels, J. Lemoine for HPLC purifications and J.-M. Strub for high-resolution mass spectroscopy. The authors also thank V. Le Houerou for discussions.

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G.F., E.M. and N.G. conceived the work. J.T.F., Q.L., A.G., J.-R.C.-I. and D.D. performed the experiments. O.S. established the mathematical model. All the authors discussed and interpreted the data. N.G. wrote the paper and all the 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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Foy, J., Li, Q., Goujon, A. et al. Dual-light control of nanomachines that integrate motor and modulator subunits. Nature Nanotech 12, 540–545 (2017).

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