Mechanical engineering at the molecular level: Self-assembly of nano-rotors (w/ Video): First, the physicists built up an extensive nano lattice by allowing cobalt atoms and rod-shaped molecules of sexiphenyl-dicarbonitrile to react with each other on a silver surface. This results in a honeycomb-like lattice of extreme regularity with astonishing stability. Just like graphene, for which its discoverers were awarded the Nobel Prize only a few weeks ago, this lattice is exactly one atom thick.
When the researchers added further molecular building blocks, the rods spontaneously gathered, typically in groups of three, in a honeycomb cell while neighboring cells remained empty. The chummy molecules must have had a reason for organizing themselves in threesomes. Under a scanning tunneling microscope the scientists were able to recognize why. The three molecules oriented themselves in such a way that the nitrogen ends each faced a phenyl-ring hydrogen atom. This triple-bladed rotor arrangement is so energetically advantageous that the molecules maintain this structure even when thermal energy drives it to rotation.