What we are doing

The main idea of the LEAPS project is to combine a photochromic reaction (a chemical transformation induced by light) with a self-assembling rotaxane architecture – consisting of a molecular axle threaded into a molecular ring - to achieve the light-powered unidirectional translation of the ring relatively to the axle. The compounds are designed following a minimalistic approach, that is, to incorporate all the functional elements necessary for the motor operation while keeping the structural complexity (and hence the synthetic and characterization effort) to a minimum. In the course of the project we have designed and synthesized new molecular axles that form the basis for second generation light-driven molecular pumps. We have also prepared molecular rings tagged with fluorescent units to facilitate the observation of the molecular movements. Progress was made towards the construction of molecular machines, based on the new pump modules, capable of transforming light energy into continuous unidirectional rotary motion, or storing light energy in the form of unstable supramolecular intermediates. Significant spin-offs of this research occurred in the areas of: photochromic materials; synthetic, structural and dynamic aspects of mechanically interlocked molecules; molecular photoswitches; nanostructured luminescent materials. These results have been published in top-tier journals.

The LEAPS team has published 26 peer-reviewed publications, and a popular science book on molecular machines has been realized (open access). The project results have been presented in more than 85 lectures and poster presentations in national/international conferences, workshops, schools and public events. Renowned experts in the field have been invited to give seminars in our institute, and an international scientific workshop on “Light-activated nanostructures” (free registration) has been organized. Moreover, the "Molecular Machines Days" - a series of public events with the participation of the three Nobel Laureates in Chemistry 2016 - have been held in Bologna in November 2018. All the details are available in the LEAPS web site (

Another significant achievement of the project is its contribution to the setup of a joint research laboratory between the University of Bologna and the National Research Council of Italy. This lab, called Center for Light Activated Nanostructures (CLAN), aims at becoming a center of excellence for research in photochemical nanosciences in Europe. Visit