The 2016 Nobel Prize in chemistry was awarded to three scientists for their collaboration and creation of molecular machines. Jean-Pierre Sauvage of the University of Strasbourg, Fraser Stoddart of Northwestern University, and Bernard Feringa of the University of Groningen researched for decades to makes machines at the microscopic level, capable of acting like individual molecules. The tiny structures move by responding to various chemical and physical processes, such as the attraction between polar molecules and flowing along a concentration gradient.
The initial step toward the creation of the machine was taken by Professor Sauvage in 1983 when he connected two ring-shaped molecules together forming a chain, instead of a covalent bond like most ring molecules. The rings can move independent of each other, meaning that the structure is able to perform a task, as mentioned in nobelprize.org.
Professor Stoddart and his team created a motor pumping macrocyclic rings against a concentration gradient, similar to the pumping of hydrogen ions against the gradient by proteins in the cell membrane. The process builds up potential energy capable of doing work on its surroundings. Of course, the model isn’t just theory and there are useful implications of being able to replicate this chemical and biological concept.
“We’re aiming towards being able to put a multitude of rings onto polymer chains, leading to films that are scratch resistant,” said Stoddart in the publication Chemistry World. “If you made a scratch on a surface made of that kind of material, quite quickly the polymer would come and fill up the cracks, presumably because the rings are sliding around on that polymer chain. We’re hoping to take polymer chemistry into a new realm of potential application.”
The applications of these machines could allow scientists to manufacture substances that conduct biological processes, similar to the synthesis of fatty acids by enzymes, as explained in Chemistry World. By understanding and replicating the way macromolecules assemble, scientists will be able to effectively analyze the causes of diseases and other complex biochemical processes. The many years of experimentation finally paid off as professors Sauvage, Stoddart, and Feringa created machines that behave exactly like molecules.
photo courtesy/ DNA Learning Center Blog