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Nobel in Chemistry Goes to Makers of 'World’s Smallest Machines'

The Royal Academy of Sciences members present 2016 Nobel Chemistry Prize during a news conference by the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences in Stockholm, Sweden October 5, 2016. The winners of the 2016 Nobel Chemistry Prize (L-R) Jean-Pierre Sauvage, James Fraser Stoddart and Bernard L Feringa are displayed on a screen. TT News Agency/Henrik Montgomery/via Reuters
Nobel in Chemistry Goes to Makers of 'World's Smallest Machines'
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Three scientists have won the Nobel Prize in Chemistry for their work in developing tiny machines.

The three men are Jean-Pierre Sauvage, Sir James Fraser Stoddart and Bernard Feringa.

They designed extremely thin molecular machines. The machines are said to be 1,000 times thinner than a single piece of hair and have parts that move when energy is added.

The Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences said the scientists’ work could lead to developments in new materials and energy storage systems.

The science of making things unimaginably small is called nanotechnology. Nanotechnology gets its name from a measure of distance. A nanometer, or nano, is one-thousand-millionths of a meter, about the size of atoms and molecules.

Jean-Pierre Sauvage of France is a retired professor at the University of Strasbourg. He began the work on a molecular machine in 1983 when he successfully linked together two molecules shaped like a circle or ring. It marked the first time chemists were able to make a molecule act in such a way.

Fraser Stoddart is a professor of chemistry at Northwestern University in the United States. In 1991, he built on Sauvage’s work. He found a way to move the molecular ring onto a molecular axle and was able to move the ring along the axle.

Bernard Feringa is a professor of organic chemistry at the University of Groningen in the Netherlands. In 1999, he developed a molecular motor. It used a molecular blade that turned continuously in the same direction.

Sara Snogerup Linse explained the importance of their work to reporters in Stockholm.

"Maybe this morning you ground your coffee, maybe you used a motorized vehicle to get here - you used man-made machines operating on the centimeter to meter length scale. It's been a dream of scientists for over half a century to take this development all the way down to the molecular scale - that's nanometers. A nanometer is one million times smaller than a millimeter..."

Snogerup Linse is chair of the Nobel Chemistry Committee.

Sauvage, Stoddart and Feringa will share a $930,000 prize for their work. They will also receive a medal and diploma at an award ceremony on December 10.

I’m Anne Ball.

Joshua Fatzick reported on this story for George Grow adapted his report for Learning English. Caty Weaver was the editor.


Words in This Story

tiny adj. very small​

ring – n. an object in the shape of a circle

axle – n. a long, straight object on which a wheel or other wheels turn

blade – n. a flat, turning part that is used on some machines to push air or water

medal – n. a piece of metal often in the form of a coin with designs and words in honor of a special event, a person, or an achievement

diploma – n. a document given in recognition of something

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