Lit­tle big wheels

The world’s largest nano- car looks good, but has per­for­mance is­sues.

Cosmos - - Digest -

Un­like the lat­est Lam­borgh­ini Aven­ta­dor, the Bob­cat Nanowagon will never make a splash on Top Gear.

This is a pity, be­cause while the Bob­cat can’t do zero to 100 km/h in 2.9 sec­onds like the Lambo can, in its own class it churn out some pretty im­pres­sive num­bers.

Ad­mit­tedly, that class is small. In­deed, very small. The Bob­cat Nanowagon, made by a team from Ohio Univer­sity, re­joices in the para­dox of be­ing the largest nanove­hi­cle ever made.

It mea­sures 3.5 nanome­tres front to back, which in the world of re­ally teenytiny cars means it takes up the best part of two park­ing spa­ces.

The car’s wheels are made out of com­par­a­tively large cu­cur­bi­turil mol­e­cules. When the Ohio Univer­sity team en­tered it in the world’s first-ever race for nanocars, held at the French Na­tional Cen­tre for Sci­en­tific Re­search in Toulouse in April, it was nick­named the world’s small­est mon­ster truck.

The car’s de­vel­op­ers, Eric Mas­son and Saw-wai Hla, how­ever, shrugged off this slight and let the ve­hi­cle do the talk­ing.

The Nanowagon’s “chas­sis” is an H-shaped frame made of a molec­u­lar com­plex known as a pseu­doro­tax­ane. This, com­bined with the ve­hi­cle’s bulky wheels, a power-drive built from some pos­i­tively charged re­cep­tors and a piezo­elec­tric charge jump­ing from the tip of a scan­ning tun­nel mi­cro­scope, meant it came off the start­ing line like a stabbed rat when the race be­gan.

The track, made from gold and sil­ver, ex­tended for less than the width of a hu­man hair. The Bob­cat got off to a strong start and trav­elled 43 nanome­tres be­fore get­ting stuck. The per­for­mance was enough to win third place, which was a lit­tle dis­ap­point­ing, given it cov­ered the ground un­til its break­down in a record-beat­ing 30 hours.

In the end, how­ever, win­ning was never the point of the ex­er­cise. “The over­ar­ch­ing goal was to ad­ver­tise nanoscience to the pub­lic,” Mas­son says.

The Bob­cat Nanowagon: nought to a- lit­tle- bit- more- than- nought in just 30 hours. CREDIT: ERIC MAS­SON

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