Artificial molecular machines

Vincenzo Balzani*, Alberto Credi, Francisco M. Raymo, J. Fraser Stoddart

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

2029 Scopus citations


The miniaturization of components used in the construction of working devices is being pursued currently by the large-downward (top-down) fabrication. This approach, however, which obliges solid-state physicists and electronic engineers to manipulate progressively smaller and smaller pieces of matter, has its intrinsic limitations. An alternative approach is a small-upward (bottom-up) one, starting from the smallest compositions of matter that have distinct shape and unique properties - namely molecules. In the context of this particular challenge, chemists have been extending the concept of a macroscopic machine to the molecular level. A molecular-level machine can be defined as an assembly of a distinct number of molecular components that are designed to perform machinelike movements (output) as a result of an appropriate external stimulation (input). In common with their macroscopic counterparts, a molecular machine is characterized by 1) the kind of energy input supplied to make it work, 2) the nature of the movements of its component parts, 3) the way in which its operation can be monitored and controlled, 4) the ability to make it repeat its operation in a cyclic fashion, 5) the timescale needed to complete a full cycle of movements, and 6) the purpose of its operation. Undoubtedly, the best energy inputs to make molecular machines work are photons or electrons. Indeed, with appropriately chosen photochemically and electrochemically driven reactions, it is possible to design and synthesize molecular machines that do work. Moreover, the dramatic increase in our fundamental understanding of self-assembly and self-organizational processes in chemical synthesis has aided and abetted the construction of artificial molecular machines through the development of new methods of noncovalent synthesis and the emergence of supramolecular assistance to covalent synthesis as a uniquely powerful synthetic tool. The aim of this review is to present a unified view of the field of molecular machines by focusing on past achievements, present limitations, and future perspectives. After analyzing a few important examples of natural molecular machines, the most significant developments in the field of artificial molecular machines are highlighted. The systems reviewed include 1) chemical rotors, 2) photochemically and electrochemically induced molecular (conformational) rearrangements, and 3) chemically, photochemically, and electrochemically controllable (co-conformational) motions in interlocked molecules (catenanes and rotaxanes), as well as in coordination and supramolecular complexes, including pseudorotaxanes. Artificial molecular machines based on biomolecules and interfacing artificial molecular machines with surfaces and solid supports are amongst some of the cutting-edge topics featured in this review. The extension of the concept of a machine to the molecular level is of interest not only for the sake of basic research, but also for the growth of nanoscience and the subsequent development of nanotechnology.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)3348-3391
Number of pages44
JournalAngewandte Chemie - International Edition
Issue number19
StatePublished - Oct 2 2000


  • Catenanes
  • Molecular machines
  • Nanodevices
  • Photochemistry
  • Rotaxanes
  • Supramolecular chemistry

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Catalysis
  • Chemistry(all)


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