Former vice-president of the European Physical Society, Dr. Petra Rudolf, has completed two working days at the Institute of Molecular Science-ICMol, where she offered an interesting talk entitled "Molecular Motors and Switches at Surfaces" and presided over the defense tribunal for the doctoral thesis of researcher Samuel Mañas, member of the team led by professor Eugenio Coronado.

In this conversation (Complete interview) , Rudolf talks about the immediate future of physical and chemical research, the possibilities of new materials, what will come to us with graphene or the advancement of female researchers.

The research works of Professor Rudolf and her team have accumulated great prestige and accolades such as the Descartes Prize from the European Commission in 2007 for their work on molecular motors, a class of proteins that drive intracellular traffic by converting chemical energy into mechanical work along the cytoskeletal filaments.

What is the smallest machine we can build? Molecular motors and switches form the basis of many important biological processes. In contrast to these solutions chosen by nature for achieving complex tasks, mankind’s present day technologies function exclusively through their static of equilibrium properties. On can, therefore, easily anticipate that the controlled movement of molecules or parts of molecules offers unprecedent technological possibilities for the future.

Molecular machines, both natural and artificial, are systems designed to carry out specific functions whose realization is based on the transformation of energy in mechanical work. Cells house hundreds of molecular machines that are specialized to perform a function determined. These devices, made up of proteins, nucleic acids or other organic molecules require energy to carry out their functions just like their analogues macroscopic. Therefore, they convert chemical energy stored in cells into mechanical energy.

In her presentation, professor Rudolf showed how to build molecular engines that allow movements at the molecular levels to be coupled to the macroscopic world. For example, to transport macroscopic objects like drops of liquid over a surface. She also explained self-assembled monolayers of switches than can be addressed with light and charge transfer and show how such systems can be employed for “read and write” functions.