What is it about nanobots that captures our imagination? We are all nostalgic for the films we watched as young children, but some scientists go a step further: they take a good idea that was once considered to be science fiction and try to turn it into a reality. Two such visionaries are Anthony Ryan and Richard Jones from the University of Sheffield in the UK. In this issue they discuss how their work on polymers has brought them a step closer to making a small machine that is capable of moving round the body and delivering drugs (page 20).

Perhaps this fascination for nanobots is also partly down to our love of the wonders we see in nature. Most responsive polymers have been created after many attempts at mimicking bacteria or other small motile organisms. Those tiny creatures make it all look so effortless. Yet here we are with a whole issue ofMaterials Today dedicated to the latest research on responsive polymers. How to make them convert chemical energy into mechanical energy, how to control the direction of movement, and of course, what to do with them once we have achieved all that. Hardly effortless! And this issue only highlights some of the vast research that is taking place. The ability to make a synthetic material move and deliver a cure is indeed an exciting prospect.

However, we are also interested in the other extreme. For some weird reason we are all fascinated by any material that can cause sudden death. Browsing through some new publications I came across John Emsley's latest popular science book Molecules of Murder and couldn't resist reading the table of contents. It isn't as though I am planning to kill anyone – no, not even my boss – I just find it amazing that such small amounts of an innocuous looking material are capable of wreaking havoc in our bodies.

You may think this interest in toxic materials doesn't apply to you, but hold up your hand if you are one of the many who have read or watched at least one murder mystery. Yes, I thought so. A big part of the enjoyment in those stories lies in finding out which deadly material the murderer used to do the deed.

Which brings me to the winning article of our writing competition (page 56). Atreyee Gupta talks about one of our inventors, Louis Le Prince. Was he murdered? Was Thomas Edison involved in any way? True or false, this story sheds a light on the competitiveness of researchers in the 17th century. I just wonder which material became the lethal weapon in this case; was it the chemical effect of a small molecule like arsenic or the physical effect of being hit on the head with a piece of lead piping that did it for Le Prince? Luckily, although competitiveness among researchers is still going strong, I doubt whether anyone of you is ready to go to such lengths to rid yourselves of a rival!

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DOI: 10.1016/S1369-7021(08)70132-9