Nanosubmarines created are propelled by ultraviolet light and can move incredibly fast.. for the molecular world

11/16/2015 - 18:20

Mike Williams

Though they’re not quite ready for boarding a lá “Fantastic Voyage,” nanoscale submarines created at Rice University are proving themselves seaworthy.

Each of the single-molecule, 244-atom submersibles built in the Rice lab of chemist James Tour has a motor powered by ultraviolet light. With each full revolution, the motor’s tail-like propeller moves the sub forward 18 nanometers.


Ref: Unimolecular Submersible Nanomachines. Synthesis, Actuation, and Monitoring, Nano Letters* (5 November 2015) | DOI: 10.1021/acs.nanolett.5b03764


Unimolecular submersible nanomachines (USNs) bearing light-driven motors and fluorophores are synthesized. NMR experiments demonstrate that the rotation of the motor is not quenched by the fluorophore and that the motor behaves in the same manner as the corresponding motor without attached fluorophores. No photo or thermal decomposition is observed. Through careful design of control molecules with no motor and with a slow motor, we found using single molecule fluorescence correlation spectroscopy that only the molecules with fast rotating speed (MHz range) show an enhancement in diffusion by 26% when the motor is fully activated by UV light. This suggests that the USN molecules give ∼9 nm steps upon each motor actuation. A non-unidirectional rotating motor also results in a smaller, 10%, increase in diffusion. This study gives new insight into the light actuation of motorized molecules in solution.