Kinetic Asymmetry and Directionallity of Nonequilibrium Molecular Systems
Scientists have long been fascinated by the biomolecular machines in living systems that process energy and information to sustain life. The first synthetic molecular rotor capable of performing repeated 360o rotations due to a combination of photo- and thermally activated processes was reported in 1999. The progress in designing different molecular machines in the intervening years has been remarkable, with several outstanding examples appearing in the last few years. Despite the synthetic accomplishments, there remains confusion regarding the fundamental design principles by which the motions of molecules can be controlled, with significant intellectual tension between mechanical and chemical ways of thinking about and describing molecular machines. A thermodynamically consistent analysis of the kinetics of several molecular rotors and pumps shows that while light driven rotors operate by a power-stroke mechanism, kinetic asymmetry – the relative heights of energy barriers – is the sole determinant of the directionality of catalysis driven machines. Power-strokes – the relative depths of energy wells – play no role whatsoever in determining the sign of the directionality. These results, elaborated using trajectory thermodynamics and the nonequilibrium pump equality, show that kinetic asymmetry governs the response of many non-equilibrium chemical phenomena.