Published on: 17 Dec '10Published in: Nature Chemistry
Biological rotary motors can alter their mechanical function by changing the direction of rotary motion. Achieving a similar reversal of direction of rotation in artificial molecular motors presents a fundamental stereochemical challenge: how to change from clockwise to anticlockwise motion without compromising the autonomous unidirectional rotary behaviour of the system. A new molecular motor with multilevel control of rotary motion is reported here, in which the direction of light-powered rotation can be reversed by base-catalysed epimerization. The key steps are deprotonation and reprotonation of the photochemically generated less-stable isomers during the 360° unidirectional rotary cycle, with complete inversion of the configuration at the stereogenic centre. The ability to change directionality is an essential step towards mechanical molecular systems with adaptive functional behaviour.