Controlling Motion at the Nanoscale: Rise of the Molecular Machines

ACS Nano. 2015 Aug 25;9(8):7746-68. doi: 10.1021/acsnano.5b03367. Epub 2015 Aug 4.


As our understanding and control of intra- and intermolecular interactions evolve, ever more complex molecular systems are synthesized and assembled that are capable of performing work or completing sophisticated tasks at the molecular scale. Commonly referred to as molecular machines, these dynamic systems comprise an astonishingly diverse class of motifs and are designed to respond to a plethora of actuation stimuli. In this Review, we outline the conditions that distinguish simple switches and rotors from machines and draw from a variety of fields to highlight some of the most exciting recent examples of opportunities for driven molecular mechanics. Emphasis is placed on the need for controllable and hierarchical assembly of these molecular components to display measurable effects at the micro-, meso-, and macroscales. As in Nature, this strategy will lead to dramatic amplification of the work performed via the collective action of many machines organized in linear chains, on functionalized surfaces, or in three-dimensional assemblies.

Keywords: DNA nanotechnology; amphidynamic crystals; azobenzene; hierarchical assembly; mechanically interlocked molecules; molecular machines; molecular switches; photomechanical crystals; rotors and motors; thermo/photosalient crystals.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Azo Compounds / chemistry
  • Biomechanical Phenomena
  • Biomimetic Materials / chemistry*
  • Crystallization
  • DNA / chemistry
  • Electrochemical Techniques
  • Hydrazones / chemistry
  • Motion
  • Nanostructures / chemistry*
  • Nanostructures / ultrastructure
  • Nanotechnology / instrumentation*
  • Nanotechnology / methods
  • Oligopeptides / chemistry
  • Photochemical Processes
  • Pyridines / chemistry
  • Rotaxanes / chemistry
  • Thermodynamics


  • Azo Compounds
  • Hydrazones
  • Oligopeptides
  • Pyridines
  • Rotaxanes
  • DNA
  • azobenzene