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Nano car Nobel Prize winner given Swiss helping hand

Bernard L Feringa reacts after being told of his Nobel Prize award

(Keystone)

Scientists at the Swiss Federal Laboratories for Materials Science and Technology (EMPA) played a part in developing a miniscule electric car that helped Dutch scientist Bernard L Feringa jointly win the Nobel Prize in Chemistry this year.

In 2011, EMPA provided the scanning tunnelling microscope that powered the world’s smallest electric car that measured a billionth of a metre. Feringa’s nanotechnology breakthroughs saw him awarded the Nobel Prize along with Jean-Pierre Sauvage and Sir J Fraser Stoddart on Wednesday.

The scanning tunnelling microscope was loaned from EMPA’s headquarters in Dübendorf, on the outskirts of Zurich, to the University of Groningen, in the Netherlands, where Feringa was conducting his research. The atom-sized tip of the microscope was used to impart electrons to the nano car.

The scanning tunnelling microscope was developed at the IBM research institute in Rüschlikon, Zurich, in 1981, and won its inventors the Nobel Prize in Physics five years later.

Speaking to the Swiss news agency SDA, Karl-Heinz Ernst, head of the EMPA Molecular Surface Science research group, explained how he had helped Feringa. “He spoke to me at a 2009 conference in Switzerland about a collaboration and I immediately agreed," he said. "Even though I doubted the feasibility of such nano cars. We still don't know to this day why it works so well."

EMPA continues to work with Feringa’s research group on the latest nano car research.

One possible practical future use for such miniscule vehicles could be to send them inside the human body to target and destroy cancerous cells.

swissinfo.ch with agencies

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