Molecular machines can generate mechanical work from chemical fuels or light at the nanoscale and are able to produce new functions by energy transduction on higher length scales. In cells, biomolecular machines participate for instance in the copy of the genetic code, in various transport processes, in the synthesis of ATP, but also in the actuation of our muscles up to the macroscopic scale.
Scientists have recently designed and gained control over the first artificial molecular machines that function as isolated individual units (Nobel Prize for chemistry 2016). We believe that it is now timely and of crucial interest to integrate such artificial nanomachines into material science. The emerging active materials should be able to demonstrate adaptive mechanical properties (e.g. for damping), or contract (e.g. for actuators and robotics) when their integrated nanomachines are fueled by an external source of energy in an out-of-equilibrium fashion.
The goal of our project is to develop concepts for the integration of light-driven nanomachines into polymer bulk materials and develop the field of far-from-equilibrium, active polymer bulk materials (“active plastics”). Key objectives include to (i) find generic synthetic pathways for an efficient integration of nanomotors into polymer bulk, (ii) understand their fundamental operational principles under light irradiation, and (ii) capitalize on this understanding with material systems displaying new levels of active, adaptive and life-like properties.