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The nanocar is a molecule designed in 2005 at Rice University in the group of Professor James Tour. Despite the catchy name, the original nanocar does not contain a molecular motor, hence, it is not really a car. Rather, it was designed to solve the question of how fullerenes move about on metal surfaces; specifically, whether they roll or slide.
The molecule consists of a H-shaped 'chassis' with fullerene groups attached at the four corners to act as wheels.
When dispersed on a gold surface, the molecules attach themselves to the surface via their fullerene groups and are detected via scanning tunneling microscopy. One can deduce their orientation as the frame is a little shorter than its width.
Upon heating the surface to 200 °C the molecules move forward and back as they roll on their fullerene "wheels". The nanocar is able to roll about due to the fact that the fullerene wheel is fit to the alkyne "axle" through a carbon-carbon single bond. The hydrogen on the neighboring carbon is no great obstacle to free rotation. When the temperature is high enough, the four carbon-carbon bonds rotate and the car rolls about. Occasionally the direction of movement changes as the molecule pivots. The rolling action was confirmed by Professor Kevin Kelly, also at Rice, by pulling the molecule with the tip of the STM microscope.
Although the current research has no immidiate applications, Professor Kevin F. Kelly suggested in an interview  that the knowledge gained from the nanocar reaserch might help build a more efficient catalytic systems in the future.
A nanocar with a Synthetic molecular motor has been developed by Jean-Francois Morin et al. "En route to a motorised nanocar" Abstract. It uses a light powered helicene motor to move like a paddlewheel with BH wheels on a surface.
- Rice University press release
- Publication abstract "Directional Control in Thermally Driven Single-Molecule Nanocars", Y. Shirai, A. J. Osgood, Y. Zhao, K. F. Kelly, and J. M. Tour, Nano Lett., 2005, 5, 2330-4.
- A New Model Nanocar on the Showroom Floor - Article covering the development of the second generation nanocar at Rice University including an interview with Professor Kevin F. Kelly.