Self-thermophoresis at the nanoscale using light induced solvation dynamics†
Downsizing microswimmers to the nanoscale, and using light as an externally controlled fuel, are two important goals within the field of active matter. Here we demonstrate using all-atom molecular dynamics simulations that solvation relaxation, the solvent dynamics induced after visible light electronic excitation of a fluorophore, can be used to propel nanoparticles immersed in polar solvents. We show that fullerenes functionalized with fluorophore molecules in liquid water exhibit substantial enhanced mobility under external excitation, with a propulsion speed proportional to the power dissipated into the system. We show that the propulsion mechanism is quantitatively consistent with a molecular scale instance of self-thermophoresis. Strategies to direct the motion of functionalized fullerenes in a given direction using confined environments are also discussed.