The 2016 Nobel Prize in Chemistry was awarded on Wednesday to Jean-Pierre Sauvage from the University of Strasbourg in France, Sir J Fraser Stoddart from Northwestern University in the United States and Bernard L Feringa from the University of Groningen in the Netherlands. The Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences decided to hand them the grant for their work in developing and refining “molecular machines” – molecules “with controllable movements”.

The Academy said the three researchers have “miniaturised machines and taken chemistry to a new dimension” and also “taken molecular systems…into energy-filled states in which their movements can be controlled”. The laureates were recognised “for the design and synthesis of molecular machines”.

Sauvage linked two ring-shaped molecules together in 1983 through a mechanical bond, allowing them to move relative to one another. In 1991, Stoddart “threaded” a molecular ring on to a molecular axle and demonstrated the ring’s ability to move along the axle. Feringa in 1999 “got a molecular rotor blade to spin continually in the same direction”. Feringa has managed to rotate a glass cylinder using molecular motors.

The Nobel prizes are awarded by the Nobel Foundation, established on the instructions issued by the inventor of dynamite, Alfred Nobel. The 2016 Nobel Prize for Medicine was awarded to Japanese cell biologist Yoshinori Ohsumi on Monday. British scientists David J Thouless, F Duncan M Haldane and J Michael Kosterlitz were awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics on Tuesday.