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Nanocar Race

The first-ever race of molecule-cars - Toulouse (France), 2017

The participants in the NanoCar Race, initially scheduled for 14-15 October 2016, have agreed to postpone the event in order to give enough time for the teams to be ready. This postponement is essential to make the event a true « sports-science » challenge.


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Rules of the Grand Prix

Molecule-cars (The teams)

Race organization






Rules of the Grand Prix

1) General regulations

The molecule-car of a registered team has at its disposal a runway prepared on a small portion of the (111) face of the same crystalline gold surface. The surface is maintained at a very low temperature that is 5 Kelvin = - 268°C (LT) in ultra-high vacuum that is 10-8 Pa or 10-10 mbar 10-10 Torr (UHV) for at least the duration of the competition. The race itself last no more than 2 days and 2 nights including the construction time needed to build up atom by atom the same identical runway for each competitor. The construction and the imaging of a given runway are obtained by a low temperature scanning tunneling microscope (LT-UHV-STM) and certified by independent Track Commissioners before the starting of the race itself.

On this gold surface and per competitor, one runway is constructed atom by atom using a few surface gold metal ad-atoms. A molecule-car has to circulate around those ad-atoms, from the starting to the arrival lines, each line being delimited by 2 gold ad-atoms. The spacing between two metal ad-atoms along a runway is less than 4 nm. A minimum of 5 gold ad-atoms line has to be constructed per team and per runway.

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La piste préliminaire construite atome par atome par C. Manzano et We Hyo Soe (A*Star,IMRE) à Singapour, avec ses 2 ad-atomes d’or pour la ligne de départ, les 5 ad-atomes d’or pour la piste et les 2 ad-atomes d’or de la ligne d’arrivée.

At once, 4 different molecule-cars compete at the same time and in parallel on the same gold surface using the LT-Nanoprobe instrument designed on purpose by ScientaOmicron for the Pico-Lab CEMES-CNRS in Toulouse. If more than 4 teams are registered before May 2016 for this first edition of the molecule-car race, playoff races will be organized determined by lot. The winner team of this first international molecule-car race will be declared by the race Director. It will be the owner of the molecule-car passing first in between the two arrival metal ad-atoms of its arrival line. If a competitor needs too long for constructing its own runway, it is allowed to be helped for this first edition of the race by the other teams. Decided by the Track Commissioners, If this construction is still too long, this team will be disqualified.

Tungsten tips are fabricated for the runways construction and for the race itself by the teams on a specific set up available at the Pico-Lab clean room and this before the starting of the race. There are 28 storage positions available on the carrousel around the runways but only one UHV tip reshaping equipment accessible on line. All the tips required for the competition must be stored on this UHV carrousel before the starting of the competition and only 1 tip can be loaded on the LT-UHV- four STM at a time.

For this first edition, molecule-vehicles are accepted. It is preferable to propose a molecule-vehicle with 4 wheels, a chassis and an embarked molecular motor that is a molecule-car with an electronic tunneling elastic propulsion mode. The molecule-vehicles accepted for the race must present a chemical structure of about hundred atoms. If no molecule-vehicle or just one among the registered ones are able to be driven by tunneling electronic inelastic effects (without any mechanical interactions between the molecule-car and the end tip apex of a given STM during the race itself), the organizers have the right for this first edition to lower the propulsion mode expectations and tolerate molecule-vehicles driven in a mechanical pushing mode.

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For the molecule-car deposition on the runways, the evaporation sequence for the 4 teams allowed to compete at the same time is going to be determined after the first set of trainings. Then, the Track Commissioners evaluate the temperature range required in view of the variety of molecular weight of the already registered molecule-cars.

On the 27 November 2015, a closed meeting is dedicated in part to evaluate this range. Once all the 4 different molecule-cars are evaporated on the same gold surface, the driver of a given team has of course the possibility to image on or near its runway the molecule-cars of all the others competitors. The role of the Track Commissioners is essential here : they should ensure that a given driver is really driving the molecule-car of its own team. Each team is responsible for the selection and the pre-training of its driver on the low temperature scanning tunneling microscope (LT-UHV-STM) of its institution. The organizers have the right to refuse the driver proposed by a team.

Organized by C. Joachim and G. Rapenne, the first competition is expected for March-April 2017. The first nominated Track Commissioner for the race is Pr. Emeritus J.P. Launay from University P. Sabatier in Toulouse.


2) Registration

To register for the first edition of the molecule-car Grand Prix in Toulouse, a team has to deliver to the organizers well before May 2016 :

  • The detail of its institution (Academic, public, private)
  • The design of its molecule-vehicle including the delivery of the xyz file coordinates of the atomic structure of its molecule-car
  • The propulsion mode, preferably by tunneling inelastic effects
  • The evaporation conditions of the molecule-vehicles
  • If possible a first UHV-STM image of the molecule-vehicle
  • The name and nationality of the LT-UHV-STM driver

Those information are used by the organizers for selecting the teams and for organizing training sessions for the accepted teams in a way to optimize their molecule-car design and to learn the driving conditions on the LT-Nanoprobe instrument in Toulouse. Then, the organizers will deliver an official invitation letter for a given team to have the right to experiment on the Toulouse LT-Nanoprobe instrument with their own drivers. A detail training calendar will be determined starting September 2015.


3) Accepted propulsion modes

Molecule-cars [1] can normally be propelled using the tunnel electrons passing through the molecule-car [2,3], also by light [4] or by nano-magnetic effects [5]. Mechanical manipulation of a molecule-car [6,7] is only allowed to reach the 2 gold ad-atoms of starting line. But this should not normally be the mode of propulsion during the race itself. 

If only one molecule-vehicle is able to be driven by the tunneling electron inelastic effects that is without any mechanical interactions between the molecule-car and the end tip apex during the race itself, the organizers have the right for this first edition to moderate the rules and tolerate molecule-vehicles driven by mechanical pushings of the STM tip apex

move in atomline

A molecule-vehicle with 6 legs driven around a circular track constructed using 14 gold ad-atoms on a gold surface. The pilots C. Manzano and We Hyo Soe from A*STAR IMRE Singapore were the first [8] to practice such a drive using the metallic tip apex of their low temperature scanning tunneling microscope to step by step push the molecule-vehicle around an hemi gold ad-atoms circle and this in a pushing mode of single molecule manipulation.


Molecule-cars (The teams)

For this first edition, molecule-vehicles are accepted with at least a chemical structure of about one hundred of atoms. It is preferable to propose a molecule-vehicle with 4 wheels, a chassis and a molecular motor but this is not compulsory at this stage. The following molecule-cars have been proposed, accepted and the corresponding team registered :

NanoMobile club CEMES-CNRS (France)
Nanocar Team Rice (USA) & Graz (Austria) Universities
Nano-windmill Compagny Dresden Technical University (Germany)
MANA-NIMS Nano-Vehicle (Japan)
Ohio Bobcat nanowagon team Ohio University (USA)
Swiss-⁠nano Dragster University of Basel (CH)


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NanoMobile club


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Nanocar Team
Rice (USA) & Graz (Austria) Universities


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Nano-windmill Compagny
Dresden Technical University (Germany)


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Nano-Vehicle (Japan)


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Ohio Bobcat
nanowagon team
Ohio University (USA)


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Swiss-⁠nano Dragster
University of Basel (CH)


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The registered molecule-vehicles have been 3D printed by the organizers at a macroscopic scale using the .xyz file of their atom coordinates as provided by the registered teams during their registration. On the photography presented below, each 3D print is in effect a 100 000 000 enlargement of the real size of each registered molecule vehicle.

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Race organization

1) The instrument for the race

Constructed by ScientaOmicron for the Pico-Lab at CEMES-CNRS Toulouse, this unique LT-Nanoprobe instrument consists exactly of four LT-UHV STM microscopes where all the 4 scanning tunneling metallic tips can image in parallel the same metallic surface at low temperature (LT) that is about -270 ° C and in ultra-high vacuum (UHV) conditions. After one year of installation and tuning in 2015, this instrument is able to deliver atomic scale images with a 2 picometers resolution, manipulating a single atom or a single molecule one at a time and in parralel on the 4 tips independantly.

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Cette photo présente la tête du LT-UHV 4 STM fonctionnant à Pico-Lab CEMES CNRS et où se déroulera la internationale course molécule voiture. La surface d’or est positionnée au centre de cette tête entre les 4 scanners qui sont clairement visibles sur la photo (Pour plus de détails sur cette machine, voir ScientaOmicron).


2) The runway

Scanning tunneling microscope single atom manipulation handicraft is known since the seminal work by D. Eigler from IBM in 1989. It will be used for constructing in parallel and on the same ultra-clean gold surface all the four runways of the international molecule-car race. This gold surface is selected because most of the registered molecule-cars are physisorbed on this surface.

One example of a step by step atom by atom construction is presented on the movie below using 9 gold ad-atoms to construct the starting letter “C” of Car with 6 gold ad-atoms. This was achieved on the LT-UHV 4 STM Pico-Lab instrument where the molecule-car race will occur in 2017. This atomic C letter construction had required 3 hours of work for repositioning in a pushing mode with a precision better than 0.1 nm each of the 6 ad-atoms and pushing away some others gold ad-atoms. The ad-atoms are initially produced on the surface by a gentle indentation of the tip apex end of a given STM in the gold surface for about 2 nm.


Single atom (Au) manipulation with 4-STM_(2) par cemes-cnrs A constant current STM image by image experimental animation on a 10 nm x 8 nm gold surface where single gold ad-atoms have been one by one manipulated by Dr. Jianshu Yang from the Toulouse MANA-CNRS satellite on the Pico-Lab machine where the molecule-car race will occur in 2017. The 16 Gold atoms have been first STM imaged at very low temperature. Then, some of them have been delicately pushed away laterally and finally the letter “C” (for car) constructed with only 6 of those gold ad-atoms. All the experimental images of this image by image animation were recorded at I= 50 pA and V = 500 mV. The single gold atoms manipulation mode is a constant current pushing mode with a 333 KOhms tunnel junction resistance.


The 3 hours construction time is an important time duration. It is the time a given team has to spend in parallel with the other competitors to construct its own runway. The exact length of the runways is to be determined in agreement with all the registered teams after the training sessions to be also compatible with the maximum duration of the molecule-car race that is 2 consecutive days and its night in between.The molecule-car race Track Commissioners are in charge of certifying that all the runways have the same atomic structure and the same length between the 2 ad-atoms of the starting and the 2 ad-atoms of the arrival lines. Each competitor is free to select the best crystallographic orientation to drive as fast as possible on the gold surface.

In preparation of the race and shortly after its announcement in the scientific Journal ACS Nano [1], the first experimental full track was constructed by the STM atom manipulation technique on a gold surface as presented on the movie below using in this case a single tip LT-UHV STM microscope.


race_track_preparation II
Assembled atom by atom for the international molecule-car race, this first experimental runway is constructed using 9 gold atoms manipulated one by one on the gold surface by the tip of a scanning tunneling microscope. After the step by step construction, this define a starting line, an arrival line and 5 central gold ad-atoms separated by 3 nm where a molecule-car must circulate around one by one to win the race. (This track was prepared by C. Manzano, W.H. Soe and C. Joachim on a gold surface where the characteristic surface reconstruction is easily recognized (LT-UHV-STM image, A* STAR IMRE, Singapore)).


3) Technical Committee

  • Dr. Christian Joachim, nanocar-race Director
  • Pr. Jean-Pierre Launay, Track commissioner
  • Dr. Sebastien Gauthier, molecule-cars sublimation
  • Dr. David Martrou and Dr. Corentin Durand : UHV and LT Au(111) surface track preparation
  • Dr. Xavier Bouju : ESQC STM image calculations
  • P. Abeihlou : mécanique de précision et impression 3D
  • C. Pertel et L. Pettiti : électronique des très petits signaux
  • J.N. Fillon et C. Collard : PC de contrôle et réseaux
  • P. Paiva et B. Melet : Infrastructures
  • Dr. Evelyne Prevots : Communication


4) Venue

Training session and the final race will be running at on the LT-UHV-4 STM Instrument located in the Pico-Lab building of the CEMES-CNRS G. Dupouy campus in Toulouse (La Boule)

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1) 27 November 2015 : The official presentation of the registered teams

All the molecule-car teams registered and the constructor of the LT-UHV- 4 STM instrument for the race will be presented in Toulouse on the 27 November 2015 during the Futurapolis event during a specific morning sequence organized by the CNRS Dir’Com and the French magazine Le Point. The public and the journalists are welcome to ask any questions about the molecule-race itself, the design of a given molecule or about the LT-UHV- 4 STM machine.

The 27 November 2015 afternoon is reserved for a close and confidential meeting between the organizers, the teams and the referees. The molecule-race regulation will be detailed, the conditions of the race will be discussed and the safety regulations exposed. The next training session periods will be determined for 2016.


2) Early training sessions


Frank passe son permis de conduire avec Jianshu sur le LT-Nanoprobe

19th to 30th of October 2015 :
The Team
 : Nano-windmill Compagny
Dresden Technical University (Germany)
The Driver : Frank Eisenhut
The Team leader : Dr. Francesca Moresco


14th March to 8th April 2016 :
The Team
 : Nano-windmill Compagny (Germany)
Dresden Technical University (Germany)
The Driver : Dr. Frank Einsenhut
The Team leader : Dr. Francesca Moresco


4th to 9th July 2016 :
The Team
 : Nano-car Team (USA-Austria)
Rice University (USA) and Graz University (Austria)
The Driver : Dr. G. Simpson (Graz)
The Team leaders : Pr. J. Tour (Rice) and Pr. L. Grill (Graz)


12th to 16th September 2016 :
The Team
 : Swiss Nano Dragster (Switzerland)
University of Basel (Switzerland)
The Driver : Dr. Remi Pawlak and Dr. Tobias Meyer
Team leader : Pr. Ernst Meyer


26th September to 15th October 2016 :
The Team :
MANA-NIMS Nano-Vehicle (Japan)
The Drivers : Dr. we-Hyo Soe and Dr. Marek Kolmer
Team leader : Dr. Waka Nakanishi


November 2016
The Team
 : NanoMobile club CEMES-CNRS (France)
The Driver : Dr. C. Durand
The Team Leader : Pr. Gwenael Rapenne


January 2017 :
The Team
 : Bobcat Naniwagon (Ohio)
The Drivers : Secret (Ohio)
The Team leaders : Pr. S. Hla (Ohio) and Pr. E. Masson (Ohio)



3) Spring 2017

Final training : End March 2017

The Grand Prix 38h non stop race : to be announced for end March-April 2017



 NanoCar race website : http://nanocar-race.cnrs.fr/


1) Sponsoring

We are accepting sponsoring….

Up to now, the molecule-car race is sponsored (May 2016) by :


2) The press


3) The literature

[1] : C. Joachim and G. Rapenne, ACS Nano, 7, 11 (2013)

[2] : B. Ferringa al., Nature, 479, 208-211 (2011)

[3] : F. Moresco and coll., ACS Nano, 7, 191 (2013)

[4] : JM Tour and al., ACS Nano, 6, 592 (2012)

[5] : T. Ono and H. Kohno, J. Magn. Soc. Jap, 31, 305 (2007).

[6] : TA Jung and al., Science 271, 181 (1996).

[7] : L. Grill and al., Nature Nano.., 2, 95 (2007).

[8] : C. Manzano, W.H. Soe and coll., Nature Mat., 8, 576 (2009)



The ignition and maturation of this competition beneficiated from the continuous support of A*STAR Singapore through the VIP Atom Tech project (2005-2014), from continuous support of the CNRS, the FEDER, Toulouse Metropole and Region Midi-Pyrenees through the CPER G. Dupouy (2007-2013), from the continuous support of the MANA-NIMS project (2008-2017) and from discussions with Pr. J.K. Gimzewski (UCLA). The organisation of this competition was also consolidated thanks to permanent discussions with the Dir’Com CNRS and with the communicators of the INP and INC CNRS Institutes. The first announcement of the molecule car race appears in the volume 7 issue 1 of the ACS Nano Journal page 11 in January 2013.

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