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Pure Appl. Chem., 2008, Vol. 80, No. 1, pp. 17-29

Beyond switches: Rotaxane- and catenane-based synthetic molecular motors*

Euan R. Kay and David A. Leigh

School of Chemistry, University of Edinburgh, The King's Buildings, West Mains Road, Edinburgh EH9 3JJ, UK

Abstract: Nature uses molecular motors and machines in virtually every significant biological process, but learning how to design and assemble simpler artificial structures that function through controlled molecular-level motion is a major challenge for contemporary physical science. The established engineering principles of the macroscopic world can offer little more than inspiration to the molecular engineer who creates devices for an environment where everything is constantly moving and being buffeted by other atoms and molecules. Rather, experimental designs for working molecular machines must follow principles derived from chemical kinetics, thermodynamics, and nonequilibrium statistical physics. The remarkable characteristics of interlocked molecules make them particularly useful for investigating the control of motion at the molecular level. Yet, the vast majority of synthetic molecular machines studied to date are simple two-state switches. Here we outline recent developments from our laboratory that demonstrate more complex molecular machine functions. This new generation of synthetic molecular machines can move continuously and progressively away from equilibrium, and they may be considered true prototypical molecular motors. The examples discussed exemplify two, fundamentally different, "Brownian ratchet" mechanisms previously developed in theoretical statistical physics and realized experimentally in molecular-level devices for the first time in these systems.
*Pure Appl. Chem. 80, 1-57 (2008). A collection of invited, peer-reviewed articles by the winners of the 2007 IUPAC Prize for Young Chemists.