How the First Ever ‘Molecular Robot’ Modifies Molecules

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Scientists have created the first nanomachine in the world that can be programmed to manipulate molecules.

Mimicking the biological processes of atomic recombination, scientists have been dreaming of nanomachines that can be instructed to manipulate matter at the molecular level.

Scientists create the world’s first 'Molecular Robot'.Click To Tweet

The concept of “Molecular Assemblers” was considered fanciful when it was first brought up six decades ago, but now we are moving from the land of dreams to reality.

“There’s Plenty of Room at the Bottom”

Richard Phillips Feynman (1918-1988) is a renowned American theoretical physicist, whose work in the field of quantum electrodynamics won him the Nobel Prize in 1965.

If there is perhaps no field of physics that Feynman hasn’t touched, we owe him a series of thank you for precursor articles to today’s nanotechnology.

On December 29th, 1959, Feynman gave a lecture at the annual meeting of the American Physical Society at Caltech.

Titled There’s Plenty of Room at the Bottom, Feynman’s presentation remains as visionary as it was almost 60 years ago.

In his lecture, Feynman laid the foundation for the miniaturization trend ongoing nowadays that seeks tinier, more powerful, energy-efficient and cheaper electronic devices.

Inspired by Feynman’s lecture, K. Eric Drexler was the first to introduce the concept of “molecular assemblers”, nanomachines that can be programmed to construct molecules on the atomic scale. Think of how the way proteins make enzymes.

Molecular Factories: World’s First Programmable Molecular Robot

The tiny world Feynman has dreamed of and the molecular assemblers Drexler’s thought up may have been seen then as concepts for the far-flung future.

That future may be just around the corner.

British scientists, at the University of Manchester, have created the world’s first nanobot that can manipulate molecules.

Only a millionth of a millimeter in size (150 carbon, hydrogen and nitrogen atoms), these “molecular robots” can be programmed to move and to build a molecular structure with its tiny robotic arm.

Through chemical inputs, scientists can instruct molecular robots to perform specific tasks, like manipulating single atoms like LEGO blocks to build complex structures.

The results of the research, funded by Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC), were published in Nature last week.

According to David Leigh, professor at Manchester’s School of Chemistry who led the project, these robots work in a similar way to robots in automotive assembly lines, grabbing and riveting parts one by one, but on a molecular scale.

Professor Leigh expects such robots to start being used in “molecular factories” within 10 to 20 years to develop new drugs, and a whole range of highly advanced products.

Which application of nanomachines is most interesting?

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