It twists and swims – and little else – but the first combination of two molecular machines is an important step on the long path to nanodevices sophisticated enough to, for example, perform repair functions within our cells.
“The next step is to integrate multiple molecular machines” into much bigger devices, says Kazushi Kinbara, who developed the tiny contraption with colleagues at the University of Tokyo, Japan. “That project is now in progress.”
The last decade of research has produced a wide array of nanoscale widgets – ranging from a 350-atom propeller to an elevator with a 2.5-nanometre rise. But virtually all have been a demonstration of principle, and of little or no real use in isolation.
“The motion of just one of these types of constructs is something that researchers spend years on,” says Ross Kelly, who built a molecular motor in 1999 at Boston College. “Joining two moving pieces, and actually getting them to work together, is a considerable achievement.”