From powering modern vehicles, to delivering mechanical power for industry, to running household appliances, electric motors are an integral part of modern technology. However, traditional electric motors are difficult to adapt for certain applications, such as in medicine and materials science.

This is where molecular-scale electric motors come into play. These tiny motors have the potential to revolutionize healthcare and materials science.

Electrons are negatively charged particles that are found in all matter. These tiny particles play a crucial role in the functioning of our world. In electric motors, they flow through wires and generate a magnetic field, which then interacts with permanent magnets to produce motion. However, on the molecular scale, electrons can be harnessed to drive a different type of motor — the molecular motor.

Let's explore how molecular motors will work, and what kind of impact they can have on medicine and materials science.

Common electric motors

One of the most widely used types of electric motor is the AC induction motor. As its name suggests, this type of motor operates on alternating current and relies on electromagnetic induction to produce motion. It has a simple design with few moving parts, making it low-maintenance and cost-effective. It is commonly used in industrial applications such as pumps, fans and compressors.

Another commonly used electric motor is the DC motor, which operates on direct current. It is known for its precise speed control and high torque capabilities. This makes it ideal for use in robotics, electric vehicles, and other precision equipment.

While these "macroscopic" motors are integral to many industries, one thing they are constrained by is their size. This is what has led the team at Northwestern University to create an electric motor that is not only small, but you can't see with the naked eye.

The chemistry behind molecular motors

While these molecular motors, and the chemistry that drives them (pun intended) is very new, it holds great potential for the future. The concept of a molecular motor is based on the use of electrons to effectively drive the motion of tiny machines, with dimensions as small as 2 nanometers wide. This is an incredible feat, considering that these machines are smaller than most virus organisms.

These motors, as reported by the chemists who are developing them, is relatively to make, with little to no waste involved in the process. This is a major advantage in terms of sustainability and eco-friendliness, compared to traditional methods of making pretty much anything that often produce large amounts of waste.

The type of molecule

Naturally, the type of molecule that is used for these molecular motors is pretty crucial to its function. The type of molecule that is currently being utilized for this purpose is catenanes. These molecules consist of interlocking rings, which create robust mechanical bonds that hold them together. These bonds allow the various parts of the molecule to move around without coming apart.

The strength and resilience of these mechanical bonds is what sets catenanes apart from other types of molecules. These bonds are able to withstand a great amount of stress and strain, allowing the molecular motors to function efficiently and effectively. This is incredibly important when considering the potential applications for these motors in various industries.

The potential synergy between molecular motors and bimolecular motors

Molecular motors and bimolecular motors could potentially have a future together. Bimolecular motors are essentially large protein molecules that are capable of converting chemical energy into movement. This is similar to how molecular motors use electrons to drive their motion.

By understanding the principles behind both types of motors, researchers can work toward creating hybrid systems that combine the best qualities of both. This could lead to even more powerful and versatile molecular motors, with potential applications in various fields such as medicine, engineering, nanotechnology, and more that maybe haven't even been considered yet.

The synergy between these two types of motors could open up a whole new realm of possibilities for future advancements in technology. By harnessing the power of both molecular and bimolecular motors, scientists can continue to push the boundaries of what is possible at the molecular level.

The future of molecular motors

But what does the future hold for these tiny machines? One of the most exciting possibilities is in drug delivery. With traditional methods, drugs often have a hard time reaching specific cells or tissues due to barriers such as cell membranes or blood-brain barriers.

Another potential application is in nanotechnology. With precise control over movement at the molecular level, molecular motors could be used to construct complex structures or machines on a nanoscale.

But perhaps the most exciting aspect of molecular motors is that they are just the beginning. As scientists continue to refine and develop these machines, who knows what other possibilities may arise? The potential for even smaller and more intricate motors opens up a whole new world of possibilities in terms of applications and advancements in various fields.

One thing is for sure, the future of molecular motors is bright. With more research and development, we may soon see these tiny machines being put to work in ways that we never even thought possible.