A study published in Science shows that it is possible to use the energy of motion of a hydrogen molecule to move a mechanical machine. The discovery opens the door to the possibility of developing molecular motors that draw energy from that.

Processes such as fluid movement, the intensity of the electromagnetic signals and chemical composition are subject to random fluctuations known as noise. It is known that can collect energy from the noise, because in nature there are processes in which it occurs.

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Now a team of scientists led by Jose Ignacio Pascual, head of group nano-image of nanoGUNE center of San Sebastian, has discovered that the random motion-noise-of a hydrogen molecule can cause the periodic motion of a mechanical oscillator.

“This means that the smallest possible molecule, the hydrogen is ‘pushing’ an oscillator ten trillion times more massive,” says Pascual.

The experiment was conducted enclosing the molecule in the small space between a flat surface and the sharp tip of a scanning force microscope. The microscope uses a periodic motion at the far end of a highly sensitive mechanical oscillator. The random movement of the molecule exerts a force against the tip, causing it to oscillate.

The oscillation of the tip, in turn, modulates the movement of the hydrogen molecule. This leads to a ‘dancing’ both synchronized, wherein the tip moves in its oscillation longer distances than the size of the molecule using the energy extracted from the noise.

To induce the movement of the hydrogen molecule, Pascual said that “electrical currents were passed through the molecule”, adding that nothing suggests that they could be used “other energy sources to generate these fluctuations, such as light”.

According to Felix von Oppen, another of the study’s authors, “a promising aspect of the results is that they could be considered in the design of artificial molecular motors that extract energy from noisy environments.”