Creativity provides Tour with nano car


It’s not surprising that the world’s first nanocar would be invented by the Tour group. Jim Tour’s single-molecule nanocar made headlines late last year, not only in Nano Letters, where “Directional Control in Thermally Driven Single-Molecule Nanocars” was the single most-accessed paper in all American Chemical Society journals for the entire year, but in publications as diverse as The New York Times and Popular Mechanics.

Rice University Professor Jim Tour showed what can be accomplished when creativity is merged with perseverance. Photo courtesy of Rice University
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For a dubious public, a cool and easily understood gadget like the nanocar is just the thing to help explain why nanotechnology is potentially so useful. And the nanocar is a terrific test object for figuring out how to make molecules do what scientists and engineers want.

The nanocar earned Tour, the Chao Professor of Chemistry at Rice University and the director of the Smalley Institute for Nanoscale Science and Technology, an Innovation Award from Honda in 2005, as well as a Southern Chemist of the Year Award from the American Chemical Society.

The Tour group spent eight years perfecting the techniques used to make the nanocar, which has a chassis and freely rotating axles made of well-defined organic groups, with wheels made of Buckyballs. The entire car measures three to four nanometers across, and 30,000 of them could park in the width of that ubiquitous human hair. The trickiest part was attaching the wheels without destroying the rest of the car.

The group has already followed up the nanocar paper with another describing a light-driven motorized nanocar. Their objective is the eventual development of nanomachines for bottom-up manufacturing, in much the same way that nature uses enzymes.

Tour also has made it his mission to demystify nanotechnology for kids His NanoKids educational outreach program expresses complex chemical and physical concepts in accessible, videogame-style tools, for grades 6 through 12. The idea came to him when his six-year-old started doodling arms and legs onto a sketch of an organic molecule. The units are being tested this year with 9,000 students in 28 middle schools.

Jim Balcom

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Jim Balcom is president and CEO of Polyfuel, Inc., a leader in engineered membranes for fuel cells. Under Balcom, the company has pushed the limits of fuel cell performance. Polyfuel recently scored a major contract with Johnson Matthey, a U.K. manufacturer of fuel cell catalysts and, in July 2006, achieved ISO 9001 certification.
Photo courtesy of Polyfuel

Dan Gamota

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Dan Gamota, director of Printed Electronics Platforms at Motorola, is the force behind a consortium of big and small companies and academic researchers working on printable electronics. He has made his own big company a leader in developing printed active displays, which merge microelectronics, electroluminescent ink and nanotechnology.
Photo courtesy of Motorola

Magnus Gittins

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Magnus Gittins serves as CEO of Advance Nanotech, Inc. The company invests in nanotech ventures. Advance Nanotech sponsors particular researchers and obtains the right to commercialize any inventions. One of the company’s first investments, in sensor maker Owlstone Nanotech, recently hired a CEO and announced its first customers.
Photo courtesy of Advance Nanotech

Pradeep Haldar

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Pradeep Haldar, professor of nanoengineering at the College of Nanoscale Science and Engineering at the State University of New York at Albany, has made it his mission to produce “industry-ready” graduates for the nanotech sector. He established his school’s Nanotechnology Management Program, nicknamed “Nano+MBA,” which enrolled its first students this year.
Photo courtesy of State University of New York at Albany