Nobel Prize in Chemistry 2016 goes to 'molecular engineers'

Scientists awarded prize for their work on molecular machines, which are 'at the same stage as the electric motor was in the 1830s'

October 5, 2016

The 2016 Nobel Prize for Chemistry has been awarded to three scientists for their work on “molecular machines”.

Jean-Pierre Sauvage, Fraser Stoddart and Bernard Feringa, who are based at the University of Strasbourg, Northwestern University and the University of Groningen respectively, have “developed molecules with controllable movements, which can perform a task when energy is added”, according to the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences, which awards the 8 million krona (£734,000) prize.

Professor Sauvage made the first breakthrough in 1983, when he managed to link two ring molecules to create a chain, the academy explained.

Then in 1991, Professor Stoddart succeeded in putting a molecular ring over an axel. This has paved the way for molecular lifts, muscles and computer chips.

Finally, in 1999, Professor Feringa created the first molecular motor, succeeding in getting a molecular rotor blade to spin in the same direction continuously.

The Swedish academy described molecular motors “as being at the same stage as the electric motor was in the 1830s, when scientists displayed various spinning cranks and wheels, unaware that they would lead to electric trains, washing machines, fans and food processors". 

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