Project Details



Proposal Title: NIRT: Nanoscale Motors Powered by Catalytic Reactors

Proposal Number: CTS-0506967

Principal Investigator: Ayusman Sen

Institution: Pennsylvania State Univ University Park

Analysis (rationale for decision):

This proposal describes an interdisciplinary collaborative effort to study a novel class of nanoscale motors which are powered by catalytic reactions. Nanoscale moving systems are currently the subject of intense interest due in part to their potential applications in nanomachinery, nanoscale assembly, robotics, tribology, fluidics, and chemical/biochemical sensing. Most of the research in this area has focused on using biological motor proteins in artificial systems, or using 'molecular motors' such as rotaxanes that are powered externally. However, nanomotors can be constructed 'from scratch' which mimic biological motors by using catalytic reactions to create forces based on chemical gradients. These motors are autonomous in that they do not require external electric, magnetic, or optical fields as energy sources. Instead, the input energy is supplied locally and chemically. The studies will provide a scientific underpinning for future applications of catalytically driven motion on the nanometer length scale. Specifically, this research will focus on: (1) exploring the range of catalytic reactions that can be used to convert chemical energy to motion on the nanometer and micron length scales; (2) chemical, photochemical, and electro/magnetic switching of motion; (3) fundamental engineering studies on energy efficiency and load-bearing ability of the nanomotors; and (4) first-generation devices such as gear assemblies, sensors, and switchable nano- and microscale pumps based on the mechanical forces produced by catalytic reactions.

An educational outreach program will be implemented that combines new efforts with key contributions to established NSF programs. These efforts focus on introducing cross-disciplinary nanoscience concepts related to nanoscale chemical motors into graduate and undergraduate courses, middle school summer science camps, and science teacher workshops.

Effective start/end date8/1/057/31/09


  • National Science Foundation: $1,000,000.00


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