The greatest race you need a microscope to watch

Six racers. Tracks made of gold and silver. And 36 hours to complete the race. No, this isn’t a plot for a new "Death Race" movie. Instead, it’s something much more benign — unless, of course, it leads to the birth of our evil robot overlords. This past weekend, scientists from around the world donned their molecular racing gloves to compete in The Nanocar Race, billed as “the first-ever race of molecule-cars.” If you missed the highlights on your favorite late-night sports channel, let us give you a recap.

Molecular machines, which won last year’s Nobel Prize in Chemistry (you can read all about it while being reminded why you failed high school chem here), are made of molecules that can react to inputs such as light and other forms of energy. To generate interest in the burgeoning field, Le centre national de la recherché scientific in Toulouse, France, decided to hold a competition.

Of the six racers that competed (pictured, top), two didn’t even finish the race. Two teams won — the Austrian-U.S. team, driving the Dipolar Racer on a silver track, and the Swiss Nano Dragster, which ran on a gold track. Apparently, the Dipolar Racer wasn’t stable enough to operate on the gold. But don’t worry about the race not being fair — silver is considered a handicap because it’s a slower surface.  

Molecular machines, also referred to as nanomachines, are an integral step in the development of nanorobotics, which could one day see use in biological medicines used to identify and destroy cancer cells. We may not see an Indy 500 raced at the molecular level anytime soon — imagine bottling milk at such a small scale. However, this race could lead to advances elsewhere in our lifetime.

The greatest race you need a microscope to watch

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