Directed Reconfigurable Nanomachines

Lead Research Organisation: University of Nottingham
Department Name: Sch of Physics & Astronomy


We propose a scheme to revolutionise the synthesis of nanodevices, nanomachines, and, ultimately, functional materials via the positional assembly of molecules and nanoscale building blocks. Computer-directed actuators will be used to drive (with sub-nanometre to sub-Angstrom precision) the elements of a nanosystem along pre-defined and entirely deterministic trajectories, thereby achieving structures not accessible by mimicking natural assembly strategies alone. Linkages and bonding between the building blocks will also be initiated, modulated, and - in some cases - terminated by direct computer control. Our proposal rests on the parallel development of novel surface-bound, reconfigurable nanoscale building blocks (molecules, functionalised clusters, nanoparticles) and advanced techniques for automated assembly of matter. We focus on the generation of two major and immensely challenging functionalities for positionally-assembled nanomachines: switchable energy transduction and conformationally-driven motion. Our archetypal system comprises the following units: an energy harvester, a switchable/gateable link, and an optical or mechanical output. By arranging, configuring, and triggering these fundamental units our long-term goal is no less than the fabrication of an autonomous, abiotic nanomachine.


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Quacquarelli FP (2012) Combining nanoscale manipulation with macroscale relocation of single quantum dots. in Beilstein journal of nanotechnology

Description This grant was funded via an EPSRC Sandpit and the project involved a number of partners (Liverpool, Glasgow, Sheffield, Brighton, and Nottingham). In terms of the scientific work, Nottingham collaborated most closely with Sheffield on the development of a technique which enabled the same individual nanoparticle (or molecule) to be located on a macroscopic sample surface (2 x 2 cm sqr) and spectroscopically probed. Samples were routinely transferred between Nottingham and Sheffield and the exact same nanoparticle was "interrogated" in both labs. This is roughly equivalent to accurately locating a football in an area the size of Ireland.

Alongside the scientific aspects of the work, the Directed Reconfigurable Nanomachines project was the forerunner of a very successful public engagement project entitled Giants of the Infinitesimal (funded by EPSRC's now sadly defunct Partnerships for Public Engagement scheme). The Giants website describes the work that was inspired by the DRN project:
Exploitation Route The protocol for relocating nanoparticles on optically transparent substrates has the potential to enable a number of combined scanning probe-optical spectroscopy measurements and is being used by the Sheffield group and their collaborators.
Sectors Education,Other

Description The research results have been published in the open literature (in the Beilstein Journal of Nanotechnology -- an exemplary open access journal where there are no article publication charges). The research results also inspired and informed a highly successful follow-on public engagement project entitled Giants Of The Infinitesimal (
First Year Of Impact 2011
Sector Education
Impact Types Cultural,Societal

Description Giants of the Infinitesimal 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact See
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2010,2011,2012,2013