Light Powers Nano-sized Molecular Sorter

Scottish scientists have invented a nano-scale light-powered machine that can do the tiny heavy lifting required to sort molecules. This machine is the size of one molecule and has the rather odd-sounding name of Rotaxane. When light is shined on it, it goes to work, sorting particles in a predictable manner, just the way scientists like it.

It’s that kind of predictability that powers machines, the ability to do the same thing over and over the technology behind the most successful mechanical processes. Such time-and-again success would be just what the nano doctor ordered in pursuing a nano-sized machine, which is what these and other scientists are really after.

They have successfully built a nanomachine that can move a drop of water uphill. That doesn’t sound like a lot until you consider that one drop of water is composed of tons of little molecules.

Professor David Leigh of Edinburgh said the group owed some of its inspiration to famed scientist James Clark Maxwell, whose Demon was a thought experiment in which an imp who is able to sort gas molecules into separate chambers despite thermodynamics law to the contrary.


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