3 win No­bel chem­istry prize for tini­est ma­chines

Sci­en­tists’ work in­spires ad­vanced molec­u­lar tools

Baltimore Sun - - MARYLAND NATION & WORLD - By Karl Rit­ter

STOCK­HOLM — Three sci­en­tists won the No­bel Prize in chem­istry on Wed­nes­day for de­vel­op­ing the world’s small­est ma­chines, 1,000 times thin­ner than a hu­man hair but with the po­ten­tial to rev­o­lu­tion­ize com­puter and en­ergy sys­tems.

French­man Jean-Pierre Sau­vage, Scot­tish-born Fraser Stod­dart and Dutch sci­en­tist Ben Feringa share the $930,000 prize for the “de­sign and syn­the­sis of molec­u­lar ma­chines,” the Royal Swedish Academy of Sci­ences said.

Ma­chines at the molec­u­lar level have taken chem­istry to a new di­men­sion and “will most likely be used in the devel­op­ment of things such as new ma­te­ri­als, sen­sors and en­ergy stor­age sys­tems,” the academy said.

Prac­ti­cal ap­pli­ca­tions are still far away — the academy said molec­u­lar mo­tors are at the same stage that elec­tri­cal mo­tors were in the first half of the 19th cen­tury — but the po­ten­tial is huge.

Stod­dart, 74, a chem­istry pro­fes­sor at North­west­ern Univer­sity in Evanston, Ill., has al­ready de­vel­oped a mol­e­cule-based com­puter chip with 20 kB mem­ory. Re­searchers be­lieve chips so small may rev­o­lu­tion­ize com­puter tech­nol­ogy the way sil­i­con-based tran­sis­tors once did.

Feringa, a pro­fes­sor of or­ganic chem­istry at the Univer­sity of Gronin­gen, Nether­lands, leads a re­search group that in 2011 built a “nanocar,” a mi­nus­cule ve­hi­cle with four molec­u­lar mo­tors as wheels.

Sau­vage is pro­fes­sor emer­i­tus at the Univer­sity of Strasbourg and di­rec­tor of re­search emer­i­tus at Fraser Stod­dart, seen toast­ing his award on Wed­nes­day, is a chem­istry pro­fes­sor at North­west­ern Univer­sity. Jean-Pierre Sau­vage is pro­fes­sor emer­i­tus at the Univer­sity of Strasbourg. France’s Na­tional Cen­ter for Sci­en­tific Re­search.

The academy said the lau­re­ates’ work has in­spired re­searchers to build in­creas­ingly ad­vanced molec­u­lar ma­chin­ery, in­clud­ing a ro­bot that can grasp and con­nect amino acids, the build­ing blocks of pro­teins. Re­searchers are also hop­ing to de­velop a new kind of bat­tery us­ing this tech­nol­ogy.

“I feel a lit­tle bit like the Wright brothers, who were fly­ing 100 years ago for the first time and then peo­ple were say­ing ‘why do we need a fly­ing ma­chine?’ ” Feringa, 65, told re­porters in Stock­holm by phone. “And now we have a Boe­ing 747 and an Air­bus. So that is a bit how I feel.”

Speak­ing to French TV Bernard Feringa is a pro­fes­sor at the Univer­sity of Gronin­gen, Nether­lands. chan­nel iTele, Sau­vage, 71, called the news a mem­o­rable mo­ment and a big sur­prise. “I have won many prizes, but the No­bel Prize is some­thing very spe­cial,” he said.

Stod­dart said the award rec­og­nized “blue sky” fun­da­men­tal re­search and that no big ap­pli­ca­tions are ex­pected any time soon.

The academy said Sau­vage made the first break­through in 1983 when he linked two ring-shaped mol­e­cules to form a chain. Stod­dart took the next step in 1991 by thread­ing a molec­u­lar ring onto a molec­u­lar axle, while Feringa was the first to de­velop a molec­u­lar mo­tor in 1999 when he got a molec­u­lar ro­tor blade to spin con­tin­u­ously in the same di­rec­tion.

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