Molecular flip in crystals

Hokkaido University researchers have designed a crystal material that continually flips between two positions like a paddle, propelling an attached structure, when stimulated by blue light. It could lead to bio-inspired microrobots that deliver drugs to target tissues, for example.

The team made azobenzene-oleic acid crystals, composed of an organic compound called azobenzene, commonly used in dye manufacturing, and oleic acid, commonly found in cooking oil. Azobenzene molecules take two structurally different forms: cis and trans, and they were found to switch back and forth when stimulated by the light.