Nanocar Race: World’s smallest car race

Information for car racing enthusiasts, there will be an international competition in Toulouse on March 24 and 25, 2022. On the opening track, cars of a few nanometers: molecular cars, “million times smaller than an ant”At the start of the competition, Toulouse assigns team member Gwenel Rappen.

For 24 hours, eight teams of researchers from around the world will compete”Nano car” that he developed. The winning team will be the one whose vehicle has covered the most distance. An event that will be possible to follow directly from the NanoCarRace YouTube channel and in the video below.

It all started with a joke…

“I wrote for fun, that we had to hold a car race.” Nanocar Race II organizer Christian Joachim recalls the context in which the competition was born in 2013: a joke in an article published in a scientific journal. The idea gained momentum and the first edition of the Nanocar Race was launched, following a CNRS competition, to reward the best idea for promoting science to the public.

And the joke has continued ever since the experience was renewed. Thought from 2018, the start of the second edition will be given on March 24, 2022. An opportunity to update the rules and make some adjustments. ,For the first version, the smart guys tried to work around the rules to move forward, they played with the electric field, The race organizer explains. This year, we did a slalom to avoid this incident.

To ensure that all teams respect the conditions, they must provide images of their molecule for each action. ,We want to see where she went.” This rule, titled “image by image”, should also make it possible to understand what is happening to each molecule, no matter how different (with wheels, legs, chassis, etc.).

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Pilot in Toulouse but no vehicles on site

The eight participating teams will be assembled under the Boule of the Center for the Development of Materials and Structural Studies (SIEMs) in Toulouse, but without their molecular vehicles. These will reside in the respective research laboratories of the teams and will be operated remotely. ,Our microscope is in another building 300 meters away. The eight teams each use a different microscope that is controlled remotely from the same location.”Gwyneel Rappen explains who almost has a chance to compete at home.

These microscopes, known as scanning tunneling microscopes, are essential for running. First, they draw pictures: “The computer is said to keep a constant electric current between the tip of the microscope and the surface. When the tip is close to an object, it is necessary to adjust the height to maintain a constant current. And it is this difference that results in the visualization of an object on the surface.”Describes Henri-Pierre Jaccott de Rouville, the chemist in the Strasbourg team.

But they have another purpose: to move the molecule. “They act a bit like bumper cars. The bumper car is powered by the grid above that allows it to move. The tip is the equivalent of the vehicle’s power rod: you put the molecule in and we’ll fill it with current”, Explain Christian Joachim.

“Understanding Why It’s Progressing”

“There’s a scientific continuity, it’s just not fun”, Would like to remind the organizer of the event. The first edition has already set the bar high, “The goal was to show that we could control four molecules independently on the same surface, which had never been done.” Technical prowess that will find its resonance especially in the development of quantum computers. Another area is related: molecular motors, that is, very small motors of a few millimetres. But above all, the researchers aim to understand that “Why does it move without pushing the molecule”.

Who says serious competition, say the chosen teams. To Christian Joachim: “Very few people know how to make an F1 engine, even if they want to do it.” Same requirement here. Competitors were selected according to the rigor of their project, retaining only eight teams from around the world between the United States, Japan or Europe.

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,Our Molecule is kind of overboard: two wheels with a little platform in the middleTo describe Henri-Pierre Jaccott de Rouville, It is very small (136 atoms), rigid, symmetric and dipole (The molecule then has two terminals, two poles, because the electrons are not evenly distributed over the structure, NDRL), Overall most teams favor having a dipole, as it is the easiest way to move the molecule forward.” Gwénaël Rapenne, whose team has chosen a similar strategy, completes: “It makes the polar molecule look like a tiny magnet.”

Communication between scientific disciplines within each team is essential for implementing an effective strategy as described by Henri-Pierre Jacquot de Rouville. ,We need chemists, automotive engineers, who will make molecules. You need a physicist, the equivalent of a pilot. Finally, theorists are needed who will compute one or more images of the molecule, as it may take on particular configurations and therefore does not necessarily need to be interpreted.”

Above all a human adventure

Victory is far from the target. Everyone agrees that it is above all a human adventure and a scientific simulation. ,We strengthened our relations of cooperation and exchanged a lot of ideas, Comments Gwénaël Rapenne, For example, do we need wheels on a car at the molecular level? Not really, we realized that in the first race, thanks to the discussion between us.

For Henri-Pierre Jaccott de Rouville, the history of molecular cars is still in its first chapter. He has big ambitions for him:We are at the stage of the first car race in history where it took about 7 hours to connect Paris with Rouen. The aim is not to stop here. You have to think of Grand Prix where the cars go very fast, or the 24 Hours of Le Mans where endurance is tested.

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