Nobel Prize in Chemistry 2016
Empa involved in Nobel research
Karl-Heinz Ernst and Manfred Parschau of the Empa research group “Molecular Surface Science” used a scanning tunnelling microscope to get a model car to move that is comprised of a single molecule – making it probably the world’s smallest electric car.
The nano car, originally developed by Ben Feringa and his group at the University of Groningen, is 4 x 2 nanometers in size – around one billion times smaller than a VW Golf– and travels on four electrically driven wheels in an almost straight line over a copper surface. Empa-scientist Karl-Heinz Ernst had the idea to use electrons instead of light in order make the car work. These results made it to the cover of the renowned science magazine “Nature” in 2011.
Unfortunately, the world’s smallest electric car doesn’t have a very big range: It needs to be refuelled with electricity after every half revolution of the wheels. Refuelling takes place via the tip of a scanning tunnelling microscope. Due to their molecular design, the wheels can only turn in one direction. “In other words: there’s no reverse gear,” says Ernst, who is also a professor at the University of Zurich.