Technology 3 min read

New Fields Fast: The NanoCar Race and Quantum Mechanical Engineering

Egorov Artem /

Egorov Artem /

After their Nanocar finished second at the first molecular-car race, an Ohio University team is laying the groundwork for the new field of quantum mechanical engineering.

This is a completely new concept of car racing. Think of a NASCAR race, but instead of hot rods roaring on the tarmac, you have cars made up of few molecules, invisible to the naked eye, speeding on a track 50,000 times thinner than the stroke of a ballpoint pen!

First ever nanocar race opens the way to the new field of quantum mechanical engineering.Click To Tweet

What I described is the NanoCar Race that was held last April by CNRS (the National Centre for Scientific Research), a French organization under the Ministry of Education and Research.

First Ever International NanoCar Race

The NanoCar Race, which took place over 36 hours between the 28th and 29th of April in Toulouse, saw the participation of 6 international teams.

Four-wheeled molecular cars of different shapes and sizes raced on 100-nanometer gold track, powered by an electrical pulse generated by an STM (scanning tunneling microscope) that uses a quantum mechanics phenomenon known as the “tunnel effect.”

quantum mechanical engineering
“Entrants, not to scale. Top row (left to right): NanoMobile club (France); Nanocar Team: Rice(USA) & Graz (Austria) Universities; Nano-windmill Compagny, Dresden Technical University (Germany). Bottom row (left to right): MANA-NIMS, Nano-Vehicle (Japan); Ohio Bobcat nanowagon team, Ohio University (USA); Swiss-nano Dragster, University of Basel (CH)” | Nanocar Race | CNRS

Speed isn’t everything, as the winner should be the one that made the greatest distance  during the 36 hours.

According to the final ranking of CNRS, there were two winners ex-aequo, The US-Austrian team (Rice/Graz universities) whose NanoPrix made 1 micron in 29 hours (on a silver surface), and the Swiss team (Bazel University), whose car traveled 133 nm in 6-and-a-half hours.

Coming in second was the Ohio University team with their Bobcat nano-wagon, which traveled 43 nm; and last, the German team (Dresden University), whose car traveled 11 nm. There were also two other unranked teams: the Japanese team (NIMS-MANA) was awarded the “Fair play” prize, and the French team (Toulouse) took home the “most beautiful car” prize.

Ohio University Team’s Ambitions Beyond the NanoCar Race

The Bobcat Nano-Wagon was developed at Laboratory for Single Atom and Molecule Manipulation at Ohio University. Although the Bobcat came in second and performed rather well, the team blames a thunderstorm in Ohio that caused power issues, as the nano-wagon was remotely-controlled across the ocean.

Nevertheless, the end of the race for the Bobcat nano-wagon is only the beginning of yet another exciting perspective.

Team leader and pilot, Saw-Wai Hla have bigger plans in store. The team’s two-target project is, first to develop a controlled molecular transport system, and two, help launching a whole new field of study: quantum mechanical engineering.

Professor Hla and his teammates are not sure whether the wheels glide or roll across the nano-surface where gravity is irrelevant, or how the nano-wagon adheres to and moves across the surface.

Currently in early theoretical discussions, the field of quantum mechanical engineering would benefit from further study of nanocars and open the way to new concepts. For example, building electronic circuits and nano-sized data storage devices.

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Zayan Guedim

Trilingual poet, investigative journalist, and novelist. Zed loves tackling the big existential questions and all-things quantum.

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