Editorial Feature

The World's First Nano-Car Race

The National Center for Scientific Research (CNRS) of France is currently in the process of organizing the world’s first international nanocar race which will be broadcasted live on the YouTube Nanocar Race channel from one of the CNRS laboratories located in Toulouse.

Only four of the qualifying teams from France, Germany, Japan, Switzerland, the United States and a joint Australian-American group will have the opportunity to compete in the 36-hour race that will be held on April 28-29, 20171.

The nanocars participating in this race must be specifically designed by the individual teams, however each nanocar should only be built from less than a hundred atoms for the entire vehicle. These cars will race each other on a gold track that is maintained at a harsh temperature of -270°C1.

The 100 nm long racecourse will be maintained by an ultra-high vacuum, while also involving two 45° turns after 20 nm and 50 nm, respectively. Each of the participating scientists/physicists will use needle-like metal tips that generate an electric current that acts as a fuel source for the movement of the nanocars to occur1.  

To arrive at the finish line, each team needs to apply an average of 400 – 500 electrical discharges of 1 – 2 volts each to move the nanocars at a speed of 4 nm per hour, without breaking the molecular composition of the car. In the case of any malfunctions or accidents that occur on the day of the race, the contestants will be allowed to switch their cars.

Learn more about the world's first Nanocar Race

Each team gets one sector of the gold surface, as well as a maximum of 6 hours to clean their sector prior to the beginning of the race2. The teams are not allowed to change tips during the 36 hour duration of the race.

The nanocar which covers the longest distance within this 36 hour time period, without breaking the nanostructure, will win the race2.

This unique race will utilize a Scanning Tunneling Microscope (STM). The STM located at the Toulouse laboratory of the CNRS is one of the few in the world that has four separate driving tips, which will allow for four drivers to compete in the nanorace at the same time. Prior to the race, the nanocars will be evaporated onto the surface of the gold sector.

The team is then free to choose which one of the scattered nanocars to use by targeting with the tip of the microscope to the surface of the molecule. A small voltage difference present between the tip and the surface allows for the generation of an electric current to fuel the car.

As the tip is moved closer to the surface, the microscope scans and analyzes a given surface and gradually renders an image onto the scientists’ control screens, while also providing an electric current to fuel the nanocars2.

The objective of this extraordinary nanocar race is to test the performance of molecular machines and the instruments controlling them. Not only will this nanorace provide a greater understanding into how to specifically control these types of nanostructures in extreme conditions, but it will also test the capabilities of this unique STM device.

When questioned on the significance of the nanorace, University of Southampton’s Steve Goldup stated that “These kinds of imaging techniques will be useful not only in nanotechnology, but also in biological applications, and it’s a great idea to challenge the system to be fast.3

As the discovery of molecular machines are finding an increased amount of real-world applications, as was confirmed by the 2016 Novel prize in chemistry, the scientists participating in this nanorace are hopeful that the international scientific community will realize the true importance of this field.


  1. "Coming to a Lab Bench near You: Femtosecond X-ray Spectroscopy." Phys.org. Web. https://phys.org/news/2017-04-lab-bench-femtosecond-x-ray-spectroscopy.html.
  2. "The World's First International Race for Molecular Cars, the Nanocar Race." Phys.org. Web. https://phys.org/news/2017-03-world-international-molecular-cars-nanocar.html.
  3. Gomollon-Bel, Fernando. ""Nanocars" Gear Up for World's Most Amazing Molecular Race." Scientific American. 16 Nov. 2016. Web. https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/ldquo-nanocars-rdquo-gear-up-for-world-rsquo-s-most-amazing-molecular-race/.
  4. Image Credit: Shutterstock.com/kirill_makarov

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Benedette Cuffari

Written by

Benedette Cuffari

After completing her Bachelor of Science in Toxicology with two minors in Spanish and Chemistry in 2016, Benedette continued her studies to complete her Master of Science in Toxicology in May of 2018. During graduate school, Benedette investigated the dermatotoxicity of mechlorethamine and bendamustine; two nitrogen mustard alkylating agents that are used in anticancer therapy.


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