Jean-Pierre Sauvage, Sir J. Fraser Stoddart and Bernard L. Feringa’s road to success in linking molecules and working with nanotechnology.

2016 Nobel Prize in Chemistry

The story began with Nobel Laureate Richard Feynman’s speech in which he asked the audience about making tiny machines with movable parts. He truly believed that it was possible to make machines on the nanometer scale, and he predicted that in 25-30 years, there will be a use for those machines. Before Feynman gave his speech, scientists were already working on producing molecular chains and creating a new bond called the “mechanical bond.” By 1980 scientists were already giving up on the discovery, but in 1983, everything changed. A research group under Sauvage’s leadership, working with photochemistry, built a model extremely similar to a molecular chain. Using this model and the cohesive force copper ions provided, they created two interlocked molecules. The article states that these molecular chains were the first step towards making the first molecular machine. Sauvage realized that in order to create a machine he needed more than one part that could work together. Sauvage and his research group later created another molecular chain where one ring rotated around the other if energy is added which was the first real beginning for making the molecular machine.

The second major step towards the big discovery was made by Fraser Stoddart. Stoddart the second Chemistry Nobel Prize winner of 2016, along with Stoddart and Feringa, was a chemist who grew up in a farm in Scotland. He was very attracted to jigsaw puzzles and was very interested in Chemistry. In 1991, him and his group built a new model that was a big achievement pushing towards achieving the goal of making a molecular machine. His machine was a “ring that lacked electrons, and a long rod, or axle, that had electron-rich structures in two places.” The ring was free to move along the axle, and an axle with a ring shaped molecule attached to it was created. When heat was added, the ring moved back and forth between the two parts of the axle. Stoddarts research group kept researching creating many different machines. He created a lift that can raise itself 0.7 nanometers from a surface. Almost everyone at that time had the goal of making a motor that continuously spun in a certain direction. Many attempts were made, but they were not successful. The first person to succeed at this was the third Nobel Prize winner this year, Duthman Bernard L. Feringa.

In 1999, Bernard Feringa, or Ben, created the first molecular motor. Usually, the movement of molecules spin the same amount of times to the right than they do to the left. However, Ben created a molecule that was designed to spin a certain direction. His research group constructed the machine so that it spun 12 million times per second. They they did that by attaching the molecule to a rotor blade that forced it to spin in a certain direction. This happened because when the rotor blade was exposed to ultraviolet light, it jumps 180 degrees. This motor was not the fastest and most efficient, but it was a great step towards achieving the greater goal. In 2011, the research group built a four wheeled nano car. Four wheels were held together and when the wheels spun, the car moved over a surface. In another experiment, Ben and his research group used a molecular motor to spin a glass cylinder. They did this by placing molecular motors in liquid crystals, changing its form and the motor spun. The works of Jean-Pierre Sauvage, Fraser Stoddart, and Bernard Feringa lead to great discoveries not only in the field of Chemistry, but in almost all the scientific fields.

By Fareeda Eraky