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Japanese team to enter nanocar in 'world's smallest car race'

The world's first race of molecule cars, known as "The Nanocar Race," will take place in France between April 28 to 29, it has been learned.

    Among the competing nanocars will be a car that has been created by The National Institute for Materials Science (NIMS), based in the city of Tsukuba in Ibaraki Prefecture. The car will represent Japan against nanocars from five other teams from countries such as the U.S., Germany and France.

    The word "nano" means one-billionth, and the length of 1 nanometer is one-millionth of 1 millimeter. The molecule-level sizes that are being dealt with in this race are extremely tiny, and trying to operate one of these nanocars is the equivalent of trying to control a baseball on planet Earth from space.

    The race will be observed by a "scanning tunneling microscope," which is capable of zooming in on molecules. The technology belongs to The French National Center for Scientific Research. The zigzag-shaped race course naturally formed on a gold surface is 100 nanometers long. The nanocars will be required to complete the course within 36 hours.

    The nanocar that has been made by NIMS is 2.1 nanometers long and 0.93 nanometers wide. It consists of 88 atoms in total: 50 carbon atoms, 34 hydrogen atoms and four oxygen atoms. Shaped like a pole with scissor-like blades at either end, the nanocar is powered by an electric stimulus -- which causes the scissor-like parts to thrash forward and drive the nanocar. The nanocar reportedly can be controlled by watching a computer screen and adjusting the electric stimulus accordingly.

    In regular car terms, this race is the equivalent of putting cars through a distance of about 200 meters.

    Looking ahead, it is hoped that the concept of using molecules to power nanocars could lead to the development of new methods for transporting medicine within the body. Kazuyoshi Nakanishi, who is the team leader of the NIMS nanocar project, says, "It'll be a difficult endurance race. I look forward to seeing the techniques that the other competitors will use during the event."

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