Molecular racing: World’s shortest race across one-thousandth width of a human hair

The track was given a couple of 40 and 45 degree turns to make things interesting. If you wish to catch the 'action', the race will be live streamed on YouTube

By: | Updated: April 10, 2017 3:08 PM
These cars are a lot bigger than the cars you'll read about here (Image: Blue Maize)

Welcome to the first ever season of the molecular sprint championship! If you thought racing snails would be slow, wait till you read how long would it take for these cars to cross the finish line. And no, you can not see this race with the naked eye. Sure, speed or time is not a factor to impress, but the amazing technology that goes into making this race possible. France is hosting the first ever nano-car race this month, and teams from France, Germany, Japan, Switzerland, the United States and a joint Austrian-American group have qualified, however only four will race the big event on 28-29 April, AFP reported. France's National Center for Scientific Research (CNRS) will be sponsoring the race, and it will be held at one of its laboratories in Toulouse, southwestern France.

They are not just shapeless molecules being raced using electric charge, but every ultra-miniature car will be built from just hundreds of atoms grouped together to form the engine, body, wheels and pedals. The drivers will not be clad in racing overalls, but in white labs coats, because surely Lewis Hamilton won't know how to drive this car! There is although one similarity with Formula One, contesting teams are allowed to switch cars in case one malfunctions.

To steer the cars, the eggheads will maneuver a microscope equipped with four needle-like metal tips that generate an electric current. The race will be held on a track made out of gold. It will take the nano-cars at least 36 hours to reach the finish line after covering 100 nanometers (one-thousandth the width of a human hair). The track was given a couple of 40 and 45 degree turns to make things interesting. If you wish to catch the 'action', the race will be live streamed on YouTube.

One team was stuck for five hours on a turn during a practice session, said race director Christian Joachim. “It's like a video game — you have to focus on the screen and be attentive all the time," he said. "You need two people, one that gets the images and the other one guiding him on strategy to avoid getting stuck." The golden surface on which the nano-cars will race is 50,000 times thinner than a line drawn by a pen.

The race is organised by some of the smartest people in Europe, it definitely is expected to serve a purpose bigger than being a pass time sport. "The objective is to try to control the mechanical movement of a molecule a couple of nanometers long," Joachim said, adding: “Once scientists can handle these cars like getaway drivers, we'll be able to create super-miniature motors for all sorts of applications."