Nanoscale elevators made of two interlinking organic molecules have been built and operated by US and Italian scientists.

They are the most complex molecular machines built yet, consisting of a platform flanked by three rings that thread through three vertical rods.

The force of an acid-base reaction is used to power the “elevator”. Experts say the force produced by the movement of the platform itself is larger than forces produced by previous ‘nanoshuttles’ – single rings that moved up and down a rod. The elevators could be used to tightly control chemical reactions, or as drug-delivery systems.

However, others remain unsure about what the elevators will be used for. “If and in which way such motor molecules will ever be useful, nobody knows at this moment,” says Fred Brouwer of the University of Amsterdam, who built the first light-powered molecular motor in 2001. “The main reason for doing this kind of research is that it is a challenge.”

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