World's Smallest Car Uses Nanotechnology

By: John Lester
Staff Writer
Published: Oct 21, 2021

World's smallest car uses nanotechnology. The car is the smallest in the world, using the parts inside a single molecule. It has a chassis, axles and a pivoting suspension.

The wheels are buckyballs, spheres of pure carbon containing 60 atoms apiece. The whole car is no more than 4 nanometers across. That's slightly wider than a strand of DNA. A human hair is about 80,000 nanometers thick.

Other groups have made car-shaped nanoscale objects. But this is the first one that rolls "on four wheels in a direction perpendicular to its axles," the researchers reported Thursday. Eventually the researchers want to build tiny trucks that could carry atoms and molecules around in miniature factories.

"We'd eventually like to move objects and do work in a controlled fashion on the molecular scale, and these vehicles are great test beds for that," said James Tour, a Rice University research who co-led the work. "They're helping us learn the ground rules."

The setup will be detailed in an upcoming issue of the journal Nano Letters. The scientists had to use "scanning tunneling microscopy" to see the thing and prove that it rolls like a car. "It's fairly easy to build nanoscale objects that slide around on a surface," said Tour's colleague Kevin Kelly. "Proving that we were rolling -- not slipping and sliding -- was one of the most difficult parts of this project."

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