Researchers create the first thermal nanomotor in the world

April 15, 2008

Researchers from the UAB Research Park have created the first nanomotor that is propelled by changes in temperature. A carbon nanotube is capable of transporting cargo and rotating like a conventional motor, but is a million times smaller than the head of a needle. This research opens the door to the creation of new nanometric devices designed to carry out mechanical tasks and which could be applied to the fields of biomedicine or new materials.

The "nanotransporter" consists of a carbon nanotube - a cylindrical molecule formed by carbon atoms - covered with a shorter concentric nanotube which can move back and forth or act as a rotor. A metal cargo can be added to the shorter mobile tube, which could then transport this cargo from one end to the other of the longer nanotube or rotate around its axis.

Researchers are able to control these movements by applying different temperatures at the two ends of the long nanotube. The shorter tube thus moves from the warmer to the colder area and is similar to how air moves around a heater. This is the first time a nanoscale motor is created that can use changes in temperature to generate and control movements.

The movements along the longer tube can be controlled with a precision of less than the diameter of an atom. This ability to control objects at nanometre scale can be extremely useful for future applications in nanotechnology, e.g. in designing nanoelectromechanical systems with great technological potential in the fields in biomedicine and new materials.
The research has been published in the online journal Science Express ( and was directed by Adrian Bachtold, researcher at CIN2 (Nanoscience and Nanotechnology Research Centre, CSIC-ICN) and at CNM (National Microelectronics Centre, CSIC), and by Eduardo Hernández at ICMAB (Institute of Material Science, CSIC), all of which form part of the UAB Research Park. Research members included Riccardo Rurali from the UAB Department of Electronic Engineering, and Amelia Barreiro and Joel Moser from CIN2 (CSIC-ICN), with the collaboration of researchers from the University of Vienna, Austria and from EPFL in Lausanne, Switzerland.

The Catalan Institute of Nanotechnology is a private foundation publicly funded by the Catalan Government and Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona. The Nanoscience and Nanotechnology Research Centre is run jointly by the Spanish National Research Council and the Catalan Institute of Nanotechnology. The National Microelectronics Centre (CNM) and the Institute of Material Sciences (ICMAB) both belong to the Spanish National Research Council. The UAB Research Park - a joint alliance between UAB, CSIC and IRTA (Institute for Food and Agricultural Research and Technology) - is formed by a group of research centres and consortiums located at the Bellaterra campus of Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona.

Universitat Autonoma de Barcelona

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