Here’s a brief description of the second experimental project generated by the Ideas Factory. As before, this is not yet an officially announced and approved EPSRC project; various administrative steps remain to be completed, including a more formal costing. Again, we anticipate that this project will receive somewhat less than half of the £1.5 million available for the ideas factory.
We propose a scheme to revolutionise the synthesis of nanodevices, nanomachines, and, ultimately, functional materials via the positional assembly of molecules and nanoscale building blocks. Computer-directed actuators will be used to drive (with sub-nanometre to sub-Angstrom precision) the elements of a nanosystem along pre-defined and entirely deterministic trajectories, thereby achieving structures not accessible by mimicing natural assembly strategies alone. Linkages and bonding between the building blocks will also be initiated, modulated, and – in some cases – terminated by direct computer control. Our proposal rests on the parallel development of novel surface-bound, reconfigurable nanoscale building blocks (molecules, functionalised clusters, nanoparticles) and a prototype computer-controlled matter manipulator best described as a nanoscale conveyor belt. We focus on the generation of two major and immensely challenging functionalities for positionally-assembled nanomachines: switchable energy transduction and conformationally-driven motion. Our archetypal system comprises the following units: an energy harvester, a switchable/gateable link, and an optical or mechanical output. By arranging, configuring, and triggering these fundamental units our long-term goal is no less than the fabrication of an autonomous, abiotic nanomachine.
The project is a collaboration between Ras Raval (Chemistry, Liverpool), Lee Cronin (Chemistry, Glasgow), Philip Moriarty (Physics and Astronomy, Nottingham), Jeremy Baumberg (Physics, Southampton), Guenter Moebus (Materials, Sheffield), Robert G. Jones (Chemistry, Nottingham), Ashley Cadby (Physics, Sheffield), and Tom Grimsey (Fine Art and Sculpture, University of Brighton).