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Three scientists share 2016 Nobel Prize in chemistry

By Fu Yiming, He Miao (Xinhua)    09:39, October 06, 2016

STOCKHOLM, Oct. 5 (Xinhua) -- Three scientists shared the 2016 Nobel Prize in chemistry, the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences announced Wednesday.

The prize was awarded to Jean-Pierre Sauvage, Sir J. Fraser Stoddart and Bernard L. Feringa "for the design and synthesis of molecular machines."

In a telephone interview, Feringa said he was "shocked, so honored, and so emotional" at the news. He emphasized that "all credit should be given to my co-workers for their fantastic work."

Talking about application potential of their designs, he said "once you can control the movement at a molecular level, you can think of all kinds of movements."

In an official statement, the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences said: "2016's Nobel laureates in chemistry have taken molecular systems out of equilibrium's stalemate and into energy-filled states in which their movements can be controlled. In terms of development, the molecular motor is at the same stage as the electric motor was in the 1830s, when scientists displayed various spinning cranks and wheels, unaware that they would lead to electric trains, washing machines, fans and food processors."

"Molecular machines will most likely be used in the development of things such as new materials, sensors and energy storage systems," it added.

The development of computing demonstrates how the miniaturization of technology can lead to a revolution. The 2016 Nobel Laureates in chemistry have miniaturized machines and taken chemistry to a new dimension.

The first step towards a molecular machine was taken by Sauvage in 1983, when he succeeded in linking two ring-shaped molecules together to form a chain, called a catenane.

Normally, molecules are joined by strong covalent bonds in which the atoms share electrons, but in the chain they were instead linked by a freer mechanical bond. For a machine to be able to perform a task, it must consist of parts that can move relative to each other. The two interlocked rings fulfilled exactly this requirement.

The second step was taken by Stoddart in 1991, when he developed a rotaxane. He threaded a molecular ring onto a thin molecular axle and demonstrated that the ring was able to move along the axle. Among his developments based on rotaxanes are a molecular lift, a molecular muscle and a molecule-based computer chip.

Feringa was the first person to develop a molecular motor. In 1999, he got a molecular rotor blade to spin continually in the same direction. Using molecular motors, he has rotated a glass cylinder that is 10,000 times bigger than the motor and also designed a nanocar.

Sauvage is currently professor emeritus at the University of Strasbourg and director of research emeritus at the National Center for Scientific Research, France. Stoddart is board of trustees professor of Chemistry at Northwestern University. Feringa is professor in Organic Chemistry at the University of Groningen, the Netherlands.

This year's prize amount is 8 million Swedish krona (930,000 U.S. dollars), to be shared equally between the laureates.

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