Why did the molecule cross the road?

Every now and again, I discover something so utterly cool that I just can’t not write about it. This is 9,10-dithioanthracene. It’s a substituted polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbon. And it can walk. I promise I’m not making this up.

Well, in fairness “walk” would be a more appropriate thing to say, though it does travel in a perfectly straight line. When the molecule is placed on a copper surface and heated, those thiol (-SH) groups start to rise and fall, alternating from side to side. The result is that they act as feet, mimicking the bipedal motion of human beings, and propelling the molecule along the surface!

In testing, this little molecule managed to take roughy 10000 unassisted steps in a straight line, without needing any guidance from rails or grooves. The fact that it always has one of it’s thiol feet on the ground stops it from stumbling off to one side or randomly changing direction.

They plan on using these little guys as components in molecular computers. Nanoscale abacuses or similar. Personally, I plan on creating an army of molecular minions! March! March, my pretties!! Wah-hahahah-hahahaaa!!

The paper (complete with some pretty micrograph images) is available here.

About Invader Xan

Molecular astrophysicist, usually found writing frenziedly, staring at the sky, or drinking mojitos.
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6 Responses to Why did the molecule cross the road?

  1. Wow! That is pretty amazing stuff!

  2. maxdwolf says:

    It gets better
    As of 2007 they can carry stuff.
    Of course in 2012 they will revolt, as the Mayans predicted.

  3. 6_bleen_7 says:

    Heh! I can imagine the thiol groups spinning around and the molecule lurching forward thanks to the hydrogen “feet” of the thiols.
    Normally, thiol groups in organic molecules are mildly acidic, with a pKa around 9 (if I remember my biochemistry correctly). Under highly basic conditions, then, the hydrogen “feet” may dissociate away. If the molecule then is unable to move, that will be support for my theory. (The aromatic system in the anthracene molecule may affect the acidity of the thiol groups, but I don’t remember enough organic chemistry to predict how.)

  4. pax_athena says:

    Oh wow, how cool is that! This world is so full of wonderful, crazy stuff!

  5. invaderxan says:

    Now that’s interesting. Maybe they should call these things nanoskippers…
    (The “nano” prefix is, of course, obligatory).

  6. 6_bleen_7 says:

    The walking motion is eerily reminiscent of the mudskipper.

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