The NanoCars Race, this amazing race on the scale of the infinitely small

At the end of next April, the city of Toulouse will host a very special race, namely the first international molecule-car race. This is the NanoCars Race.

This Monday, March 13, 2017, the CNRS announced the organization of the first international molecule-car race, the NanoCars Race, which will take place in Toulouse on April 28 and 29.  » The NanoCar race takes place on a very small scale, that of molecules and atoms: the nanoscale… like a nanometer! A nanometer is one billionth of a meter, i.e. 0.000000001 meter or 10-9 m writes the CNRS on the site dedicated to this amazing race.

No asphalt circuit here, but gold leaf. No stands either, but a retransmission on this YouTube channel. A very powerful microscope is necessary to observe molecules and atoms: the « tunnel effect » microscope or STM (scanning tunneling microscope) allows this and it is also what drives the NanoCars forward. For this race, an STM microscope unique in the world has been set up at the Center for the Development of Materials and Structural Studies (CEMES) of the CNRS in Toulouse: it is equivalent to four STM microscopes.

The tunnel effect is a phenomenon that comes under quantum mechanics: using a tip and an electric current, the microscope will use this phenomenon to determine the electrical conductance between the tip and the surface; i.e. the amount of current that passes through. By scanning line after line, we obtain an electronic map of the surface and of each atom or molecule placed on it.

Six teams from six countries are currently preparing for this race, which will last a maximum of 38 hours: France, Switzerland, Austria, Japan, the United States and Germany. Only four of them will take the start and each of the four teams will have control screens at their disposal to guide and control their car.

More than a competition, this is a  » international scientific experiment, conducted in real time, to test the performance of molecule-machines and instruments capable of controlling them “, explains the CNRS.

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