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From the cogs and wheels of a well-oiled machine to the spinning flagella of single-celled swimmers, rotation is one of the most useful forms of mechanical motion at almost any size scale. Researchers have long sought to mimic the molecular machinery of life, with some of their successes honored in the 2016 Nobel Prize in Chemistry (see Physics Today, December 2016, page 18). But until now, most synthetic molecular rotors have been painfully slow, taking minutes or even hours to complete a single rotation.

Now two overlapping groups have sped things up, creating DNA origami molecular rotors that spin in a controlled direction several times a second. Both groups include DNA origami expert Hendrik Dietz (Technical University of Munich), Dietz’s graduate student Anna-Katharina Pumm, and theoretical physicist Ramin Golestanian (Max Planck Institute for Dynamics and Self-Organization). Despite their material similarities, the rotors work in completely different ways.

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