The 2016 Nobel Prize for Chemistry has been awarded for the development of the world’s smallest machines.
Jean-Pierre Sauvage, Sir Fraser Stoddart and Bernard Feringa will share the 8m kronor (£727,000) prize for the design and synthesis of machines on a molecular scale.
They were named at a press conference in Sweden.
The machines conceived by today’s laureates are a thousand times thinner than a strand of hair.
They could slip inside the human body to deliver drugs from within – for instance, applying pharmaceuticals directly to cancer cells.
This field of nanotechnology could also yield applications in the design of smart materials.
The prize recognises their success in linking molecules together to design everything from motors to a car and muscles on a tiny scale.
“They have mastered motion control at the molecular scale,” said Olof Ramström, from the Nobel Committee.
Reacting to the award, Prof Feringa said: “I don’t know what to say, I’m shocked. And my second remark was: ‘I’m a bit emotional about it’.”
Donna Nelson, president of the American Chemical Society (ACS) said she was “thrilled” by the Nobel Committee’s decision.
“It’s wonderful. I’ve done work in nanoscience for a while – though not in micromachines – so I think I have enough background to appreciate the difficulty of the work they did and its magnificence,” she told the BBC News website.
The professor of chemistry at the University of Oklahoma added: “I’m also interested in the public perception of science and this topic is perfect for capturing the imagination of schoolchildren.”
“The world is so aware of the Nobel Prizes and they influence the research. It will make the area blossom; more scientists will move into the area and it will attract more funding. You can expect the applications to appear much more rapidly now.”
The celebrated physicist Richard Feynman is often credited with inspiring the concept of molecular machines.