The racetrack circuit is made up of individual atoms of gold. Just like in Formula 1, the nanocars need to speed around the circuit as fast as possible from a starting point, in this case made of just two atoms, to the finish line, again made up of just two atoms. The race was thought up by Christian Joachim, of the French National Centre for Scientific Research (CNRS), and Gwénaël Rapenne at CNRS’ Centre d'élaboration de matériaux et d'études structurales (CEMES).

Four nanocars to compete in parallel

Of course, we will not be able to watch the race with the naked eye but we will be able to follow it thanks to an ensemble of unique tunnel effect microscopes based in Toulouse. The tip of each microscope will sweep the surface of a portion of the racetrack – a technique that not only provides the necessary energy to drive the nanocars, but which also maps their progress along the circuit image after image.

The Toulouse microscope is the only one of its kind in the world to possess four tips, thus allowing four nanocars to compete in parallel and at the same time. Each team will have its own screen so that it can guide and control its vehicle. The images will be transmitted live on a large screen and on a dedicated web site, which will be revealed nearer the time of the race.

The nanocars themselves are a feat of nanoengineering and allow us to see the extent to which researchers can now control nanomachines. This “atom technology”, as it is known, will allow them to build the first electronic circuits atom by atom.

The teams:

The NanoMobile Club at the CNRS and the University of Toulouse III – Paul Sabatier.
Driver: Gwénaël Rapenne

The Nanocar team from the universities of Rice in Texas and Graz in Austria.
Drivers: James Tour (Rice) and Leonhard Grill (Graz).

The Nanowindmill Company of Dresden Technical University in Germany.
Driver: Francesca Moresco

The Ohio Bobcat Nanowagon Team of the University of Ohio.
Drivers: Saw Wai Hla and Eric Masson

The NanoVehicle team from the MANA-NIMS Institute in Tsukuba, Japan.
Driver: Waka Nakanishi

They present their prototypes at the Toulouse Museum auditorium on Friday 26 November at 11:00 CET.

Markus Maier of Scienta Omicron, the company that constructed the CEMES-CNRS machine in Toulouse on which the race will take place, will also be present.