From Interlocking and Knotted Rings to Molecular Machines
Prof. Jean-Pierre Sauvage

Sauvage has been a CNRS researcher and a University professor (Strasbourg). He worked with very talented PhD students, postdocs and permanent researchers of professors. Since the beginning of the 80s, Sauvage and his group have been interested in various fields including:

  • coordination photochemistry and solar energy conversion,
  • CO2electrocatalytic reduction,
  • chemical topology : catenanes, knots and rotaxanes,
  • multifunctional ruthenium and iridium complexes for light-induced charge separation,
  • multifunctional porphyrins as models of the photosynthetic reaction centre as well as
  • molecular switches and molecular machines such as a “swinging catenane”, “muscles”, “shuttles” or “compressors ».


Sauvage received a relatively large number of French and international awards including the 2016 Nobel Prize in Chemistry.



Till the mid-80’s, interlocking rings (catenanes) were considered as extremely difficult if not impossible compounds to prepare. The main contribution of our group has been to make these species accessible. In a similar way, knotted rings were considered as impossible to synthetize but nowadays these compounds are no more regarded as exotic species.

Since the mid-90s, the field of artificial molecular machines has experienced a spectacular development in relation to molecular devices at the nanometric level or as mimics of biological motors. In biology, motor proteins are essential in a large variety of processes essential to life. These complex natural machines have been a source of inspiration for chemists. Many examples of artificial molecular machines and motors are based on rotaxanes or catenanes. Particularly significant examples include a “pirouetting catenane”, “molecular shuttles” as well as dynamic systems reminiscent of muscles. Multi-rotaxanes able to behave as compressors and switchable receptors have also been reported. The molecules are set in motion using electrochemical, photonic or chemical signals. Particularly impressive light-driven rotary motors have been created by the team of Feringa.

Finally, we will talk about the future of the field and try to imagine in which fields such compounds could find applications in a long term prospective.

A reference : J.-P. SAUVAGE, “From Chemical Topology to Molecular Machines”, Angew. Chem. Int. Ed., 2017, 56, 11080.



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