Molecular Nanorovers: A roadmap to molecular superlubricity
Third-party funded project
Project title Molecular Nanorovers: A roadmap to molecular superlubricity
Principal Investigator(s) Vilhena Albuquerque D'Orey, José Guilherme
Co-Investigator(s) Meyer, Ernst
Organisation / Research unit Departement Physik / Nanomechanik (Meyer)
Project start 01.03.2020
Probable end 28.02.2021
Status Active

Understanding and choreographing the dance of molecules is a matter of utmost complexity as not only
requires a detailed knowledge of their intricate internal dynamics but also how the latter affects and is influenced by its
surroundings. Fueled by the practical interest of controlling molecular motion/diffusion in organic synthesis, catalysis,
… , throughout history we witnessed ever ingenious ways to control/activate the motion of molecules: from the plain
old heating and stirring, up to microwave and laser guided molecular streams[1]. Yet, a seemingly control of molecular
motion at solid interfaces has thus far remained elusive. The challenge stems from understanding how an external
stimuli (e.g. light, electrical or chemical energy) can be harnessed to induce structural modifications or alter
molecule-surface interactions in such way that generates motion. Such understanding would benefit not only the surface
chemistry at large (e.g. on-surface synthesis[2] and catalysis[3]) but also the growing community of nanoscale synthetic
molecular machines[4,5] since most their biomolecular counterparts operate at interfaces[6]. The difficulty to direct the
motion of molecules over surfaces is perhaps best realized considering that in the 1st nanocar/molecular race[7] only two
out of 7 world class research groups were able to meet the challenge. This consisted in propelling a molecule (each team
could bring its “best contender”) along 100nm in less than 30h!! The sole molecules crossing the finish line required a
large amount of time (considering the distance), were very small molecules and used extremely energy inefficient
propelling mechanisms.
In this project we propose a novel strategy consisting in a bottom-up chemical design of molecules that explore
recent advances in superlubricity and physical chemistry allowing to decrease the energy dissipated during the motion
by one order of magnitude. Whats more, this will enable to remotely/autonomously propel the molecules along well
defined directions using simply an external uniform electric field. To meet this ambitious goal we resort to a synergetic
approach combining state of the art 5K Ultra High Vacuum Scanning Probe Microscopy (UHV-SPM) experiments with
all atom molecular dynamics simulation (MD) with parameters derived a priory from Quantum Mechanical (QM)
calculations. This Spark project will enable the transition of molecular propelling from pulses to fields (STM pulses to
uniform electric fields).

Financed by Swiss National Science Foundation (SNSF)

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