Teeny Tiny Tongs

| | The orange “piston” is opened and closed by light, causing the red arms on the other side of … Continued

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| | The orange “piston” is opened and closed by light, causing the red arms on the other side of the blue joint to twist, operating the yellow pedals. Courtesy NewScientist.com and Kazushi Kinbara|

A working pair of scissors doesn’t sound interesting, but it is when those scissors are too small to see.Nanoscientists in Tokyo have just created the first working molecular machine that can act like a tool to alter another molecule. As reported in Nature, their nanoscale scissors grip and twist an even smaller molecule. When light hits a photosensitive chemical on the scissors, their iron-based hinge pivots. That flips two molecular paddles at the bottom of the scissors that hold the target object—in this case, a structure of nitrogen atoms—which obligingly changes its shape. That simple twist is the first step on the way to more useful nanoscale machines. Think cars, conveyor belts that deliver drugs, or anything else that depends on gears and levers prodding other pieces into action. —Lauren Aaronson