Volume 479 Issue 7372, 10 November 2011

Any future artificial transporters and robots operating at the nanoscale are likely to require molecules capable of directional translational movement over a surface. Even the design of such molecules is a daunting task, however, as they need to be able to use light, chemical or electrical energy to modulate their interaction with the surface in a way that generates directional motion. Kudernac et al. now unveil just such a molecule, made by attaching four rotary motor units to a central axis. Inelastic electron tunnelling induces conformational changes in the rotors and propels the molecule across a copper surface. By changing the direction of the rotary motion of individual motor units, the self-propelling molecular 'four-wheeler' structure can follow random or preferentially linear trajectories. This design provides a starting point for the exploration of more sophisticated molecular mechanical systems, perhaps with complete control over their direction of motion.


  • Editorial |

    A court decision in the United States rescinding an order to turn over academic e-mails in response to a freedom-of-information request is welcome.

  • Editorial |

    Bill Gates gave the G20 summit a workable plan to boost development around the world.

  • Editorial |

    A painstaking study absolves US astronomer Edwin Hubble of censoring a Belgian rival.

World View

  • World View |

    The extensive academic fraud of Diederik Stapel has rocked science. Social psychologist Jennifer Crocker traces the destructive path that cheats follow.

    • Jennifer Crocker

Research Highlights


Seven Days

  • Seven Days |

    The week in science: China's first docking in space; six men complete 520-day virtual mission to Mars; and GSK pays US$3billion to settle investigations.



News Feature

  • News Feature |

    The US government says that a huge earthquake risk lurks in the heart of the country, where a series of large shocks hit 200 years ago. Seth Stein says that kind of warning is dead wrong.

    • Richard Monastersky


  • Comment |

    A discovered letter explains the loss of key paragraphs during the translation of one of Georges Lemaître's papers about the expanding Universe, shows Mario Livio.

    • Mario Livio

Books & Arts

  • Books & Arts |

    Martin Kemp sifts the evidence that Leonardo da Vinci painted the newly emerged work Salvator Mundi.

    • Martin Kemp
  • Books & Arts |

    Thomas Dietz reassesses Robert Cialdini's revolutionary treatise on the science of decision-making.

    • Thomas Dietz
  • Books & Arts |

    Artist Rob Kesseler adorns porcelain, glass and books with incredibly detailed close-ups of pollen, seeds, leaves and fruit, created in collaboration with botanists in London and Lisbon. As he exhibits Jardim Porcelanico, a collection of tableware decorated with magnified sections of plants he collected in Portugal, he discusses the changing face of botany in art.

    • Daniel Cressey


News & Views

  • News & Views |

    A comparative analysis traces the trajectory of change in social organization among primates and establishes a firm foundation for modelling the origins of social complexity. See Letter p.219

    • Joan B. Silk
  • News & Views |

    The differential rotation between the Moon's core and mantle may have powered the ancient lunar dynamo, either continuously over several hundred million years or intermittently after large impacts. See Letters p.212 & p.215

    • Dominique Jault
  • News & Views |

    A study reveals that female promiscuity in a songbird, the dark-eyed junco, is explained by the greater reproductive success of offspring sired by males outside social pairs compared with offspring born within pairs.

    • Lawrence Bellamy
    •  & Andrew Pomiankowski
  • News & Views |

    Age brings not just wisdom, but also, alas, many traits that to most of us are much less attractive. It now seems that, at least in mice, clearance of senescent cells delays some of the maladies associated with ageing. See Letter p.232

    • Daniel S. Peeper
  • News & Views |

    Nanoscale systems designed to imitate functions from the macroscopic world lead to a new appreciation of the complexity needed to actuate motion at the limits of miniaturization. A nanoscale 'car' is the latest example. See Letter p.208

    • Paul S. Weiss




  • Column |

    Flexible academic positions help women to juggle work and family. Kate O'Brien and Karen Hapgood explain how to avoid the 'female ghetto' when working part time.

    • Kate O'Brien
    •  & Karen Hapgood


  • Q&A |

    Biostatistician leaves medical career in China for cancer research in the United States.

    • Virginia Gewin


Brief Communications Arising

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