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Press Release 10-083

Molecular Robots On the Rise

Researchers announce new breakthrough in developing molecules that behave like robots

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Artist's conception of the molecular robot moving on a track.

Researchers have created and observed a molecular robot capable of many steps, and of making decisions where to step and how long to stay. As the robot walks on the substrate, it changes each piece by cleaving off a part. If it touches a spot that has been cleaved already, it does not linger as long. The end of the track glows red and captures the robot, letting the researchers know when it has completed its walk. The robot glows green, allowing for the researchers to see it better.

Credit: Zina Deretsky, National Science Foundation


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In recent years, scientists have been working to create robots that consist of a single molecule. Until recently, these robots have been able of only brief, directed motion on a one-dimensional track. Now a team of researchers have successfully created molecular robots capable of simple robotic actions within a defined environment autonomously, including the ability to start moving, turn, and stop. The researchers believe the process they have developed to achieve these tentative first steps may allow for more complex robotic behavior from these tiny robots. Milan Stojanovich, representing team of researchers from four institutions, discusses the team's work and its potential for future progress in this new field.

Credit: Columbia University/National Science Foundation