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Rice University has invented a new version of its "nanocar" which can drive at room temperature and is easily imaged.  (Source: Rice University)
New nanocar can roll at room temperature making it a promising platform for nanomachines

Nanomachines may one day climb along your skin, swim through your bloodstream, and fly through the air we breathe.  While the hazards of such miniature machines make rich cautionary science fiction fodder, the benefits may also be great.

While there have been great advances in developing useful nanoparticles and tiny nanodevices, the research into controllable platforms to deliver these devices on lags behind.  One such delivery platform is Rice University's nanocar.  James Tour a Professor of Chemistry, mechanical engineering and materials science and computer science at Rice, created the nanocar in 2005 spawning much excitement and subsequent research.

The car was made primarily out of carbon and featured buckyball wheels.  Later a paddlewheel motor powered by light was added, and the old wheels were swapped out for carboranes, which didn't trap the light energy like the buckyballs did.  Rice has created a number of variants including nanotrucks, nanobackhoes and other models.

Now Rice has rolled out the new model of its nanocar with some attractive features.  The original nanocars ran very hot -- requiring temps of 200 °C to travel across surfaces.  The new car automatically travels across surfaces at room temperature.

The new work is possible thanks in part to an innovation in imaging which saw a switch from imaging the nanocar with a scanning tunneling microscope (STM) to single-molecule fluorescence imaging.  The new imaging technique, unlike STM requires no conductive substrate to visualize the car.  The improvement was cooked up by Rice associate professor Stephan Link. 

The researchers discovered by accident that their new cars were running at room temperature. Describes Professor Link, "We thought, 'We're just going to take an image, and nothing's going to happen'. To my surprise, my students came back and said, 'They moved!'"

Using a new tracking algorithm with time-lapse photography, the team detected the cars, tiny fluorescent dots, zig-zagging over a glass surface at a rate of 4.1 nanometers (or two nanocar lengths) per second.  Similar to techniques astronomers use to track moving stars, the new technique identified the nanocar by spotting its movement versus other fluorescing objects.

The new technique used tetramethylrhodamine isothiocyanate dye, which was also polarized, so you could tell which way the car was pointing.  Currently the dye is dragged like a trailer, but Professor Link hopes to incorporate it into the frame to speed up the car and cut drag.  He also hopes to add an extra pair of wheels to the current four to help the car maintain a straight path.  He states, "Now that we see movement, the challenge is to take it to the next level and make it go from point A to point B. That's not going to be easy."

The new research is published in the journal ACS Nano.

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Endless possibilties
By Storkme on 2/4/2009 9:16:01 AM , Rating: 4
Now all we need is a tiny Lewis Hamilton...

RE: Endless possibilties
By scrapsma54 on 2/4/2009 9:24:50 AM , Rating: 2
Wheres the fun in that? Recreate Dale Earnhart so he has someone to race with.

RE: Endless possibilties
By JasonMick on 2/4/2009 10:00:57 AM , Rating: 2
Tsk tsk, go with Clarkson and Hammond from Top Gear. I can just see their tiny likenesses joy riding in the nanocar and breaking it.

RE: Endless possibilties
By austinag on 2/4/2009 10:45:29 AM , Rating: 2
Oh yes, they would break it. But it's Top Gear, so the would do a comparison test/race with a blimp driven by angry baboons.

RE: Endless possibilties
By MrBlastman on 2/4/2009 10:50:00 AM , Rating: 5
Look, if they can make a Ford Fiesta look good, they can make this look good too!

RE: Endless possibilties
By Bubbacub on 2/4/2009 3:43:04 PM , Rating: 2
i forgot how good that episode was - thanks!

RE: Endless possibilties
By Storkme on 2/4/2009 11:53:49 AM , Rating: 4
I guess it'd be easier to shrink Hammond..

RE: Endless possibilties
By Bubbacub on 2/4/2009 3:42:24 PM , Rating: 2
captain slow wouldn't break it! let May have a go

RE: Endless possibilties
By saiga6360 on 2/4/2009 5:16:46 PM , Rating: 2
If its a self-repairing nanocar then they can ride on for eternity.

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