University of Manchester Researchers Create World’s First ‘Molecular Robot’

Researchers at the University of Manchester, School of Chemistry in the UK have created the “molecular robot” – considered as the world’s first.

According to Professor David Leigh, who led the research at the University’s School of Chemistry, the molecular robot was built out of atoms, the same way as one builds a robot out of Lego bricks.

Atoms are the basic building blocks that form molecules and all matter is made up of atoms. The robot created by the University of Manchester researchers is made up of 150 carbon, hydrogen, oxygen and nitrogen atoms.

The robot’s size is just a millionth of a millimeter. A pile of billions of these molecular robots would be the same size in terms of volume and weight as a few grains of salt.

Molecular Robot in Operation
“Molecular robotics represents the ultimate in the miniaturisation of machinery. Our aim is to design and make the smallest machines possible. This is just the start but we anticipate that within 10 to 20 years molecular robots will begin to be used to build molecules and materials on assembly lines in molecular factories.” – Professor David Leigh, Sir Samuel Hall Professor of Chemistry

Professor Leigh likens the molecular robot to a robot used in a car assembly line. Just like a robot in a car assembly line that’s programmed to move in certain positions in order to build the bodywork of a car, the molecular robot is similarly programmed to move in certain positions to build different products, for instance, building other molecules.

“The robots are assembled and operated using chemistry,” Professor Leigh said. “Then, once the nano-robots have been constructed, they are operated by scientists by adding chemical inputs which tell the robots what to do and when, just like a computer program.”

According to the University of Manchester researchers, molecular robots can fast-track drug discovery, significantly reduce power requirements, and drastically increase the miniaturization of other products.

The Nature journal published the molecular robot findings of the University of Manchester researchers.