A Hall-Effect sensor can measure the vertical movement of the magnetic bead which indicates whether the switch is on or off. That, in an over-simplified nutshell, is the essence of the molecular switch, an actuator for the nano-scale world.
This is particularly important because a nano-scale actuator will be immensely useful. An actuator is a mechanism that supplies and transmits a measured amount of energy for the operation of another mechanism or system. It can be a simple mechanical device, converting various forms of energy to rotating or linear mechanical energy. Or it can convert mechanical action into an electrical signal. It works both ways.
"The light switch, the button that makes a retractable pen, all these are actuators, and by developing a molecular switch we've created a tiny actuator that could be used in an equally vast number of applications," says Firman.
The number of potential applications is staggering. They can be used for flow-control valves, pumps, positioning drives, motors, switches, relays and biosensors.
The system could be used to develop molecular circuits, or even molecular scale mechanical devices. The potential applications are difficult to predict, but are only limited by the imagination of researchers, such is the versatility of an actuator on this scale.
"It could be used as a communicator between the biological and silicon worlds. I could see it providing an interface between muscle and external devices, through its use of ATP, in human implants. Such an application is still 20 or 30 years away," says Firman "It's very exciting and right now we're applying for a patent for the basic concepts."
One hugely important application is