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Light-powered molecular machines are conjectured to be essential constituents of future nanoscale devices. As a model for such systems, we have synthesized a polymer of bistable photosensitive azobenzenes. Individual polymers were investigated by single-molecule force spectroscopy in combination with optical excitation in total internal reflection. We were able to optically lengthen and contract individual polymers by switching the azo groups between their trans and cis configurations. The polymer was found to contract against an external force acting along the polymer backbone, thus delivering mechanical work. As a proof of principle, the polymer was operated in a periodic mode, demonstrating for the first time optomechanical energy conversion in a single-molecule device.
↵* Present address: Department of Physiology and Biophysics, Case Western Reserve University, 10900 Euclid Avenue, Cleveland, OH 44106, USA.