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British scientist Sir J Fraser Stoddart among three 2016 Nobel Prize for Chemistry laureates for making the world's "smallest machines"

Francesca Washtell
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Nobel Peace Prize Ceremony 2008
The Nobel committee announced the winners this morning in Stockholm (Source: Getty)

A British professor was among this year's laureates for the Nobel Prize in Chemistry, which was awarded to a trio of scientists for making the world's "smallest machines".

The 8m Swedish krona (£724,000) prize money was split equally between the three winners, French Jean-Pierre Sauvage, Scottish Sir J Fraser Stoddart and Dutch Bernard L Feringa.

In each of their research, the scientists have developed molecules with controllable movements, which can "perform a task when energy is added".

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In a statement, the committee said:

2016's Nobel Laureates in Chemistry have taken molecular systems out of equilibrium's stalemate and into energy-filled states in which their movements can be controlled.

In terms of development, the molecular motor is at the same stage as the electric motor was in the 1830s, when scientists displayed various spinning cranks and wheels, unaware that they would lead to electric trains, washing machines, fans and food processors.

Molecular machines will most likely be used in the development of things such as new materials, sensors and energy storage systems.

So what exactly did each of the researchers do?

Sauvage took the first step towards creating a molecular machine in 1983, when he successfully linked two ring-shaped molecules together to form a chain, called a cantenane. For a machine to be able to perform a task it must consist of parts that can move relative to each other - his two interlocked rings fulfilled this requirement.

Fraser took the second step in 1991, when he threaded a molecular ring onto a thin molecular axle and demonstrated that the ring was able to move among the axle. This allowed him to create developments such as a molecular lift, a molecular muscle and molecule-based computer chip.

Finally in 1999 Feringa became the first person to develop a molecular motor, when he got a rotor blade to spin continually in the same direction.

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Using molecular motors, he has rotated a glass cylinder that is 10,000 times bigger than the motor and also designed a nanocar.

Last year, the prize went to three geneticists who could transform cancer treatments from their findings on how the body repairs genetic damage and keeps DNA healthy.

Yesterday the Nobel Prize for Physics was awarded to a trio of British professors working at US universities whose research had revealed the "secrets of exotic matter".

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