NU researchers develop molecular pump

Shane McKeon, Assistant Campus Editor

Northwestern scientists have developed an artificial molecular pump, a device that simulates a mechanism allowing cells to metabolize and store energy.

The pump could pave the way for future researchers to design devices that operate on a molecular level, such as artificial muscles.

Chemistry Prof. Fraser Stoddart, the study’s senior author, said the device is a major finding in natural nanotechnology.

“Our molecular pump is radical chemistry — an ingenious way of transferring energy from molecule to molecule, the way nature does,” Stoddart said in a news release. “All living organisms, including humans, must continuously transport and redistribute molecules around their cells, using vital carrier proteins. We are trying to recreate the actions of these proteins using relatively simple small molecules we make in the laboratory.”

Chuyang Cheng, a graduate student who helped author the study, likened the molecule’s behavior to that of magnets.

“In some respects, we are asking the molecules to behave in a way that they would not do normally,” Cheng said in the release. “It is much like trying to push two magnets together. The ring-shaped molecules we work with repel one another under normal circumstances. The artificial pump is able to syphon off some of the energy that changes hands during a chemical reaction and uses it to push the rings together.”

The findings were published in the journal Nature Nanotechnology.

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