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Molecular motor possibilities

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Molecular motor possibilities

The search for efficient and sustainable ways to produce energy is not new, but one form of nanotechnology being investigated at Otago takes things to a new level.

Dr Michael Jack (Physics) has joined other scientists globally investigating “molecular motors”.

These are specialised proteins inside the cell that act like molecular-scale motors to convert chemical energy into mechanical forces. They power our body, including our muscles, and they are a very efficient way to convert energy from one form to another far more so than many current technologies.

Molecular motors, or motor proteins, are of enormous interest in both biological and physical sciences, with implications for biological energy use and as an excellent example of a far-from-equilibrium physical system.

Taking technology to the limits presents enormous possibilities. There are possible biological applications, such as wireless sensors for monitoring bodily chemical levels powered by molecular motors embedded in cells.

The potential to disrupt the activity of molecular motors in bacteria and viruses, inhibiting their energy mechanisms, is being tested as a new form of drug treatment.

Molecular motors may also offer potential as energy-efficient room-temperature catalysts for many industrial processes, such as fertiliser production.
Jack’s group is specifically interested in the physics of what is occurring, wanting a deeper understanding of the mechanisms at the nanoscale which will, in turn, open research possibilities for many practical applications.

“It’s a challenging new area of theoretical physics research. The research focuses on developing non-equilibrium statistical mechanics theories and involves applying mathematical techniques developed in quantum mechanics.”