This year, the Nobel Prize in Chemistry was awarded to Jean-Pierre Savage (France), John Fraser Stoddart (USA) and Bernard Fering (Holland) for research in the field of molecular engines.
From the point of view of scientific and technological progress, the molecular engine today is approximately at the same stage as the electric motor in the first half of the 19th century.
The people then looked with surprise and fear at the rods and wheels rotating under the influence of an unknown force. It never occurred to anybody that this is the prototype of future electric trains, washing machines, fans and food processors. Their molecular “descendants” will find their application in other, more “delicate” areas – in the creation of new materials, nanosensors and energy storage systems.
Jean-Pierre Savage for a long time worked in the field of photochemistry. Once he discovered two molecules connected around each other with a copper ion. Sauvage removed the copper ion, but the bond between the molecules remained intact. Later, it was called the catenary. Its peculiarity is that it is a mechanical bond (one ring around the other), and not an electronic one, which forms covalent bonds. Savage was the first to synthesize compounds from the class of catenanes.
The Scot Freser Stottard, who now works in the USA, synthesized the molecules of the rotaxans, consisting of a long chain, with a ring freely threaded on it. Large structures along the edges of the chain do not allow the ring to “jump off” from it.
Ben Feringa is known as one of the leading experts in the field of molecular machines. He created the world’s first molecular motor with molecules moving in one direction, and not chaotically, as is usually the case. To achieve this, he was able to use the pulses of ultraviolet light, which activated the molecular rotor blades.