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5 December 2013 11:26 am ,
Vol. 342 ,
An animal rights group known as the Nonhuman Rights Project filed lawsuits in three New York courts this week in an...
Researchers have been hot on the trail of the elusive Denisovans, a type of ancient human known only by their DNA and...
Thousands of scientists in the Russian Academy of Sciences (RAS) are about to lose their jobs as a result of the...
Dyslexia, a learning disability that hinders reading, hasn't been associated with deficits in vision, hearing, or...
Exotic, elusive, and dangerous, snakes have fascinated humankind for millennia. They can be hard to find, yet their...
Researchers have sequenced and analyzed the first two snake genomes, which represent two evolutionary extremes. The...
Snake venoms are remarkably complex mixtures that can stun or kill prey within minutes. But more and more researchers...
At age 30, Dutch biologist Freek Vonk has built up a respectable career as a snake scientist. But in his home country,...
- 5 December 2013 11:26 am , Vol. 342 , #6163
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Spin Wizards of the Nanoworld
24 July 1998 8:00 pm
Molecules are incorrigible fidgeters. Let loose in a gas, they store their heat by zigging and zagging; when trapped in a solid, they wiggle against their neighbors. Now, scientists have discovered molecules with an entirely new type of motion: They spontaneously spin at the dizzying pace of more than several million times a second. The twirling molecules, described in today's issue of Science, could become a prototype for the world's tiniest, and entirely frictionless, bearing.
The discovery was serendipitous. A team from IBM's Research Laboratory in Zurich, Switzerland, and several European universities was investigating a new way to store data. They had wanted to coat a copper surface with a layer of propeller-shaped molecules--complex organic molecules each just 2 nanometers across. Then they planned to enter binary information by flattening selected molecules with the tip of a scanning tunneling microscope (STM).
But, after trying to create a layer just one molecule thick, the researchers noticed gaps where the copper surface was exposed. Normally, the STM could spot only the three-bladed propellers, but "in those voids, we observed ring-shaped molecules," says IBM's Jim Gimzewski. These, they surmised, might be the blurred images of spinning propellers. They confirmed their hunch by observing individual molecules as they started to rotate (another way to store heat) then stopped after being jammed by other loose molecules.
The whirling dervishes aren't likely to appear in molecular motors anytime soon. "This is still basic research, but we may be able to apply it to devices in a decade or so," says Cees Dekker of the Technical University of Delft in the Netherlands. In the meantime, he adds, they could be useful in the lab for studying the mechanics of molecular bearings.