Light-Driven Rotary Molecular Motor


University of Nevada, Reno researchers, Joseph Cline and Thomas Bell, of the Department of Chemistry study the dynamics of small molecules that can be synthesized in two mirror-image forms, and have synthesized molecular-scale motors and actuators.

Technology Summary

Due to their proven operations and energy efficiency, biomolecular motors have emerged as candidates for power sources for artificial nanomechanical structures. These motors exhibit several disadvantages: low speed operation, poor temporal and positional control, dependence on thermal chemical reactions to rotate, a narrow and restrictive range of environmental conditions that they can tolerate, and a size (several tens of nm) that makes it difficult to incorporate into structures where the desired scale is of individual small molecules (about 1 nm).

The UNR molecular motor is unique in that its operation relies on light energy alone. The light produces directional (clockwise or counterclockwise) motion, and the motor design is flexible so that the rotary direction, drive light wavelength, and other physical characteristics such as solubility can be varied. The motor can be used in applications where mechanical power, positional control, and information encoding are to be generated at the size scale of individual molecules (about 1 nm).

The motor is made up of compounds that absorb light energy and convert it into motion. These compounds include a base (similar to a gear) and a photoactive rotor that interlocks with the base. They can be chemically functionalized allowing for integration into, or attachment to, a variety of structures, and are robust over a wide range of thermal and chemical environments – including vacuum.


Applications for the compounds functioning as molecular motors include:

  • Data Storage

  • Driving nanoscale gears

  • Powering nanoscale machines

  • Propelling swimming molecules or devices

  • Agitating or stirring molecules in surface diffusion chemistry

  • Winding or unwinding DNA or other molecules

  • Making light-triggered capsules capable of releasing drugs, toxins, or molecular probes

  • Encoding information in the orientation of a rotor or patterns of ensembles of rotors adsorbed to a surface.


UNR is seeking expressions of interest from parties interested in collaborative research to further develop, evaluate, or commercialize this technology.

IP Status

Light-Driven Rotary Molecular Motors
US Patent No.: 7,964,722; 2012/0074336

Patent Information:
For Information, Contact:
Dan Langford
Technology Commercialization, Manager
University of Nevada, Reno and Desert Research Institute
Thomas Bell
Joseph Cline
Christine Cremo
Stephen Gillett
John Frederick
Renewable Energy