Solar-Powered Molecular Motors

The prospect of realizing molecular machines has inspired nanotechnologists to dreams ranging from building nanocars, to designing quantum computers, to generating nanoscopic robotic surgeons to fight cancer. Energy-sustainable machines which could self-fuel as they perform their nanoscopic function would be particularly exciting.

Molecular motors are of course key components of any molecular machine. To this end, our research focuses on the materials discovery of new light-induced molecular motors for solid-state physics and chemistry applications. In 2013, our group published the first example of a solar-powered, controllable, rotation-limited, molecular transducer in the crystalline state. Here, part of a molecule moves in response to visible light, which in turn knocks a neigbouring molecule in a manner a bit like a 'domino-effect'. This molecular transduction occurs within a single crystal. This is quite exciting since crystalline opto-nanomechanical transducers are a key element of current designs of quantum computing demonstrations, and yet examples of crystalline molecular transducers are so rare.

Accordingly, we synthesize and characterize the structure and function of new light-induced molecular transducers. Solid-state optical spectroscopy and a developing materials characterization technique called photo-crystallography are the primary tools for analysis. This is often supported by calculations using density functional theory.

Selected publications

Advanced Materials Cover

Light-induced molecular transduction occurs in this metal complex via SO2 photoisomerization.