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The NanoCar Race Is Just Like NASCAR, Only A Trillion Times Smaller

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Imagine a drag race where the cars are 100 atoms in size, the racetrack is 100 nanometers long, and instead of taking place in a deafening arena, the event happens silently within a microscope. That is the essence of The NanoCar Race, a first-of-its-kind event in Toulouse, France.

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Live From Inside A Microscope

Organized by the National Center for Scientific Research in France, the NanoCar Race puts six teams' vehicles head to head:

If the "cars" look like they're made from a bunch of individual particles, that's because they are: each car can be made up of no more than 100 atoms. Still, the teams can design them however they think is best—they don't have to run on four "wheels" like a traditional car, which is why Germany is competing with a windmill design and Japan's vehicle appears to have fins. The actual race takes place on 100-nanometer-long tracks upon very small, highly polished gold disk chilled to -454 degrees Fahrenheit.

Related: The Tiny True Size Of The Atom

Of course, it's hard to make an engine the size of a few atoms. Instead, the cars get their energy from the microscope itself. The center's scanning tunneling microscope both captures the action in real time and, thanks to quantum tunneling, transfers electrons to the disk's surface that help the vehicles speed around the racetrack at a blistering—make that unbearably slow—5 nanometers per hour. Thanks to the sluggish speed, The NanoCar Race takes place for a full 36 hours. Whichever car has traveled furthest at the time limit wins.

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For The Love Of Nanobots, Why?

This might sound like a very silly use of some very expensive equipment, but it has its reasons. Nanotechnology is an area with a lot of potential, and scientists want to use atomic-scale machines just like these to produce unimaginable supermaterials, life-saving medical breakthroughs, and futuristic data storage. So while these tiny racecars may be plodding around a gold disk today, they're helping future machines blaze the scientific trails of tomorrow.

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