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Nanocar Race is an international scientific competition with the aim of testing the performance of molecular machines and the scientific instruments used to control them. The race of the molecules takes place on a 100 nanometer track and was held for the first time in Toulouse on 28 and 29 April 2017.
The idea for the race was formulated in January 2013 in the ACS Nano magazine by the Toulouse organizers of CEMES-CNRS, this way a call for applications was launched to give the participating teams time to prepare appropriate nanocars. The race is officially announced by the National Centre for Scientific Research in November 2015 in Toulouse during Futurapolis1. On this occasion, five teams presented their prototype projects on November 27, 2015.
The first race in the world of this type, between four vehicles, started on the 28 April 2017  at the CEMES-CNRS in Toulouse and lasted 36 hours. The Toulouse organizers also agreed on the competition of two more vehicles, which will then be remotely controlled via Internet from the CEMES-CNRS race room on the microscope of their own laboratory. These relates to the vehicles from Ohio and Graz-Rice.
The track of the first competition is a gold surface, equipped with grooves to define race lanes in order to avoid losing vehicles. It is about 100 nanometres long, and includes two bends. It is located in a small enclosure cooled to -269°C under a primary vacuum of 10−10 mbar and is observed simultaneously by four scanning tunneling microscopes (STM) miniaturized for this event and operating on the same surface. Each microscope is responsible for driving a single vehicle (a single nanocar).
During this competition, the nanocars should move as far as possible on the gold track during the 36 hours race. Speeds of 5 nanometers per hour were expected
Nanocars are a new class of molecular machines that can roll across solid surfaces with structurally defined direction. They are molecules essentially composed of a few tens or hundreds of hydrogen and carbon atoms and are measuring one to three nanometers.
The nanocar is propelled step by step by electrical impulses and electron transfer from the tip of the STM. The resulting tunnel current flows through the nanocar between the tip of the microscope and the common metal track. There is no direct mechanical contact with the tip. The nanocar is therefore neither pushed nor deformed by the tip of the microscope during the race. Some of the electrons that pass through the nanocar release energy as small intramolecular vibrations that activate the nanocar's motor.
- Switzerland: Swiss Nano Dragster, University of Basel
- France: Toulouse nanomobile club, Paul Sabatier University
- Austria/United States: NanoPrix Team University of Graz / Rice University
- Germany: Nano-windmill Company Technical University of Dresden (TU Dresden)
- Japan: Nano-Vehicle NIMS-MANA National Institute for Materials Science
- United States: Ohio Bobcat Nano-Wagon, Ohio University
On the silver track, the vehicle of the Austrian-American team from the Universities of Rice and Graz set the first speed record with a peak speed of 95 nanometers per hour, and was ranked equally with the Swiss team. This vehicle was remotely controlled from the Toulouse race hall on the University of Graz microscope. Specific properties of the chemical structure as well as a completely new manipulation technique (without time-consuming imaging steps) rendered this nanocar very fast. These properties even allowed to complete a distance of more than 1000 nm after completion of the official race track.
The American team from Ohio University turned back for no apparent reason after 20 nanometers, the German team broke 2 vehicles without being able to restart, and the Japanese team ended up giving up. The French team lost sight of its vehicle on its surface area, and was also obliged to abandon, comforting itself with the symbolic prize of "the most elegant car in the competition ".
To make this kind of race possible, a considerable number of problems had to be solved beforehand, such as the choice of the track and its preparation, the improvement of monitoring and control devices, in particular the sensitivity of current measurements, the evaporation of a large number of very different molecules on the same surface and microscope validation
Among the benefits, the CNRS cites the development molecular motors and Tech-Atoms, that will make possible in the future the preparation of quantum electronic circuits on the surface of an isolator, atom by atom, whose calculating parts will measure less than 1 nm.
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- Erwan Lecomte (May 2, 2017). "Nanocar Race: Un bolide moléculaire laisse ses concurrents sur place" [Nanocar Race: a molecular racing car leaves its competitors on the spot]. sciencesetavenir.fr (in French). Retrieved December 2, 2018. CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)
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