The Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences awarded the Chemistry Nobel Prize this Wednesday. The prize went to three pioneers, whose work in developing nanomachines from moving molecules was groundbreaking.
Molecular machines are really the smallest mechanical devices in the world. One day, we will make use of the technology to create new kinds of materials, new types of sensors and new energy storage systems. They can bring about change in the same way major inventions in the past have transformed our world and society.
The Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences said in a statement that the discovery is in its early stages. With regard to development, the molecular motor finds itself at the stage that the electric motor was around 1830. At the time scientists were displaying spinning cranks and strange wheels without knowing what all that would lead to. Now we know that it led to electric trains, to washing machines, to fans and to food processors. What in the 1830s was a recent discovery, today is part of our everyday lives. To the point that we take it for granted and don’t even notice it anymore.
Nanotechnology is the creation of structures at the scale of one nanometer. That’s one billionth of a meter. Research into the field of nanotechnology has been giving excellent results for the past couple of decades. Now scientists are looking at building tiny moving machines that are the size of one-thousandth of the width of one strand of human hair.
The research that made nanotechnology possible was pioneered by Jean-Pierre Sauvage, J. Fraser Stoddart and Bernard L. Feringa.
Dr. Bernard L. Feringa said that he was “a bit shocked” when he received the phone call that let him know he had received a Nobel prize. He talked about feeling like the Wright brothers, who, 100 years ago, were flying for the first time. Back then people were saying “Why do we need a flying machine?”. Now we have the Boeing 747.
Feringa said that the discovery “opens up a whole new world of nanomachines”. However, as scientists are looking at ways of making machines that operate autonomously, we have to consider new issues. “We have to think about how we can handle these things safely”, said Feringa.
The Three Scientists
Jean-Pierre Sauvage is 71. He was born in Paris, France and received his Ph.D. from the University of Strasbourg in 1971. Jean-Pierre Sauvage is now professor emeritus at the University of Strasbourg in France. He is also director of research emeritus at the National Center for Scientific Research in France.
J. Fraser Stoddart is 74. He was born in Edinburgh, Scotland and received his Ph.D. from Edinburgh University in 1966. Currently, he is professor of chemistry at Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois. In the past he has taught at U.C.L.A. Queen Elizabeth II made him a knight for services to science.
Bernard L. Feringa is 64. He was born in Barger-Compascuum, the Netherlands and received his Ph.D. from the University of Groningen in 1978. He still works at the University of Groningen, where he teaches organic chemistry.
The three scientists are going to share the prize equally between them. The prize is 8 million Swedish kronor, about $930,000.
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