The 2016 Nobel Prize in Chemistry has been awarded to a trio of researchers who figured out how to mechanically link molecules to make the world's smallest motors and machines, the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences said Wednesday.
"The miniaturization of technology can lead to a revolution," the academy said in a statement. "The 2016 Nobel Laureates in Chemistry have miniaturized machines and taken chemistry to a new dimension."
Jean-Pierre Sauvage, Sir J Fraser Stoddart and Bernard L Feringa - based in France, the US and the Netherlands - have developed molecules with controllable movements, which can perform a task when energy is added.
Their molecular machines, "a thousand times thinner than a hair strand," include a miniscule lift, artificial muscles and tiny motors that can be used to develop new materials, sensors and energy storage systems, the academy said.
"When I got the message, I didn't know what to say," Feringa said by phone at the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences, adding he was "a bit shocked [by] such a great surprise."
"I'm so honoured, so emotional about this," said the Dutch chemistry professor, who is based at the Netherlands' University of Groningen.
"I feel a little bit like the Wright brothers, flying 100 years ago for the first time," he said.
"Then people were saying 'Why do we need a flying machine?' and now we have the Boeing 747 and Airbus. So this is a bit how I feel," he added, speaking by phone to reporters at the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences.
In 1999, Feringa was the first person to develop a molecular motor when he succeeded in making a molecular rotor blade spin continually in the same direction.
Prior to that, Stoddart had in 1991 threaded a molecular ring onto a thin molecular axle. The Scotland-born researcher, now based at Northwestern University in the US state of Illinois, demonstrated that the ring was able to move along the axle, leading to the development of a molecular lift, a molecular muscle and a molecule-based computer chip.
Sauvage, a Paris-born researcher and emeritus director at France's National Centre for Scientific Research, succeeded in 1983 in mechanically linking two ring-shaped molecules together to form a chain.
French President Francois Hollande extended his congratulations to Sauvage, and said in statement that the prize "represents a recognition of the excellence of French and European research."
Last year, the chemistry prize was shared by Tomas Lindahl, Paul Modrich and Aziz Sancar for studies on DNA repair.
The chemistry prize, endowed by Swedish chemist and industrialist Alfred Nobel, was the third of this year's Nobel Prize awards to be announced. Each award is worth 8 million kronor (930,000 dollars).