Meet the world’s biggest nano-vehicle

Compared to the impressive numbers that describe the performance of, say, the latest model Lamborghini Aventador, the specs of the Bobcat Nanowagon are unlikely ever to make a splash on Top Gear.

This is a pity, because while the Bobcat can’t do zero to 100 kilometres per hour in 2.9 seconds like the Lambo can, in its own class it can still churn out some pretty impressive performances.

The drawback, of course, is that its class is small. Indeed, very small. The Bobcat Nanowagon, made by a team from Ohio University in the US, in fact rejoices in the oxymoronic title of the largest nano-vehicle ever made.

{%recommended 5166%}It measures 3.5 nanometres from front to back, which, in the world of really teeny-tiny cars, means it takes up the best part of two parking spaces. 

Impressively, the car’s wheels are made out of comparatively large cucurbituril molecules. When the Ohio team entered it in the world’s first-ever race for nanocars, held at the French National Centre for Scientific Research in Toulouse last April, it was nicknamed the world’s smallest monster truck.

The car’s developers, Eric Masson and Saw-Wai Hla, however, shrugged off this slight, and let the vehicle do the talking.

The Nanowagon’s “chassis” is an H-shaped frame made out of a molecular complex known as a pseudorotaxane. This, combined with its bulky wheels, and a power-drive built from some positively charged receptors and the point of a scanning tunnel microscope, meant it came off the start-line like a stabbed rat when the race began.

The track, which was made from gold and silver, extended for considerably less than the width of a single human hair. The Nanowagon got off to a strong start and travelled 43 nanometres before getting stuck. 

Its performance was enough to earn it third place, which was perhaps a little disappointing given that it had covered the ground until its breakdown in a record-beating 30 hours.

Masson and Hla are presenting their race report this week to the 254th National Meeting & Exposition of the American Chemical Society, held in Washington DC, US.

In the end, however, winning the race was never the point of the exercise.

“The overarching goal was to advertise nanoscience to the public,” Masson says.

“Then there was the technical challenge of manipulating multiple nanocars at the same time using a scanning tunneling microscope. Additionally, every team had its own goal. Ours was to see if we could deposit an intact supramolecular assembly onto a surface, and control its motion.”

Please login to favourite this article.