Face mites are microscopic and everyone has them, but they are still not small enough to drive the nano-cars that will be racing in the first-ever international NanoCar race. No one will be able to directly watch this race, although the tiny cars from five teams will be visible through sophisticated microscopes developed for the event.
Time trials will determine which nanocar is the fastest, though there may be head-to-head races with up to four cars on the track at once, according to organizers of the miniature grand prix. The event will take place next November in Toulouse, France.
A nanocar is a single-molecule vehicle of 100 or so atoms that incorporates a chassis, axles, and freely rotating wheels. Each of the entries will be propelled across a custom-built gold surface by an electric current supplied by the tip of a scanning electron microscope. The track will be cold at 5 kelvins (minus 450 degrees Fahrenheit) and in a vacuum.
The Rice University entry will be a new model and the latest in a line that began when James Tour, professor of computer science and of materials science and nanoengineering, and his team built the world’s first nanocar more than 10 years ago.
“It’s challenging because, first of all, we have to design a car that can be manipulated on that specific surface,” Tour says. “Then we have to figure out the driving techniques that are appropriate for that car. But we’ll be ready.”
Graduate student Victor Garcia is building what Tour calls his group’s Model 1, which members of Professor Leonhard Grill’s group at the University of Graz in Austria will drive. The labs are collaborating to optimize the design.
The Center for Materials Elaboration and Structural Studies (CEMES) of the French National Center for Scientific Research (CNRS) is organizing the event.
Christian Joachim, a senior researcher at CNRS, and Gwénaël Rapenne, a professor at Paul Sabatier University, first proposed the race in a 2013 paper in the journal ACS Nano.
Joining Rice are teams from Ohio University; Dresden University of Technology; the National Institute for Materials Science, Tsukuba, Japan; and Paul Sabatier University.