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J Chem Phys. 2013 Aug 14;139(6):064707. doi: 10.1063/1.4817343.

Computational design of chemically propelled catalytic nanorotors.

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Department of Materials Science and Engineering, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, Troy, New York 12180, USA.


We designed catalytic nanorotors and investigated the rotational motion and energy conversion efficiency using reactive molecular dynamics in two dimensions. First, a two-arm nanorotor was constructed by decorating a slender beam with catalysts asymmetrically on its two long edges, while fixing the beam center as the rotational axis. Autonomous rotation was observed for the two-arm nanorotor immersing in a fuel environment. Here fuel molecules undergo exothermic combination reaction facilitated by the catalysts. It was found that the angular velocity increases with the catalyst coverage parabolically, while the rotary nanomotor efficiency stays roughly constant. These observations are consistent with a single-collision-momentum-transfer-based propulsion model. Furthermore, multi-arm nanorotors (up to eight arms) were constructed by carving radially distributed arms followed by decorating catalysts. For multi-arm nanorotors, both the angular velocity and the efficiency decrease as the number of arms increases. These behaviors contradict the aforementioned model, which are likely due to the deceleration from secondary collisions between products and the nanorotor arms. Our simulation results show that the optimal design for a nanorotor that maximizes its angular velocity and the motor efficiency is a two-arm nanorotor with nearly full coverage of catalysts.

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