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“Similar to a human walking, where one foot is kept on the ground while the other moves forward and propels the body, our molecule always has one linker on a flat surface, which prevents the molecule from stumbling to the side or veering off course,” said Bartels, assistant professor of chemistry and a member of UCR’s Center for Nanoscale Science and Engineering. “In tests, DTA took more than 10,000 steps without losing its balance once. Our work proves that molecules can be designed deliberately to perform certain dynamic tasks on surfaces.”
Bartels explained that, ordinarily, molecules move in every unpredictable direction when supplied with thermal energy. “DTA only moves along one line, however, and retains this property even if pushed or pulled aside with a fine probe.” Bartels said. “This offers an easy realization of a concept for molecular computing proposed by IBM in the 1990s, in which every number is encoded by the position of molecules along a line similar to an abacus, but about 10 million times smaller. IBM abandoned this concept, partly because there was no way to manufacture the bars of the abacus at molecule-sized spacing.
“DTA does not need any bars to move in a straight line and, hence, would allow a much simpler way of creating such molecular memory, which would be more than 1000 times more compact than current devices.”
The UCR research team is now trying to build a molecular ratchet, which would convert random thermal oscillation into directed motion. “It would be similar to an automatic watch that rewinds itself on the arm of the bearer – except that it would be just one nanometer in diameter,” Bartels said.