Rebuilding atomic bonds in a single molecule for the first time!

If chemists build cars, they fill the factory with auto parts, set it on fire, and sift out the ash that now vaguely resembles a car.

And when you’re dealing with auto parts the size of an atom, that’s a perfectly reasonable process. However, chemists are looking for ways to reduce waste and make reactions more accurate.

Chemical engineering has gone even further: researchers at the University of Santiago de Compostela in Spain, the University of Regensburg in Germany, and the IBM Research Company in Europe have made a single molecule go through a series of transformations with little effort.

Typically, chemists achieve reaction precision by adjusting parameters such as pH, as well as adding or removing available proton donors to control how molecules can exchange or share electrons to form their bonds.

“This changes the reaction conditions to such an extent that the underlying mechanisms that govern selectivity often remain elusive,” the researchers note in their report, published in the journal Science.

In other words, the complexity of the operating forces that push and pull on a large organic molecule can make it difficult to accurately measure what happens at each bond.

The team started with a substance called 5,6,11,12-tetrachlorotetracene (with the formula C18H8Cl4), a carbon-based molecule that resembles a row of four honeycombs surrounded by four chlorine atoms circling like hungry bees.

By gluing a thin layer of the material onto a cold piece of salt-crusted copper, the researchers repelled the chlorine bees, leaving a handful of excitable carbon atoms clinging to unpaired electrons in a group of related structures.

Two of these electrons in some structures have been reconnected to each other, changing the overall honeycomb shape of the molecule. The second pair also sought to pair not only with each other, but also with any other available electron.

This vibrational structure is usually short-lived as the remaining electrons also pair with each other. But the researchers found that this particular system was not an ordinary system.

With a little effort, they showed that they could force one molecule to conduct a second pair of electrons in such a way that four cells would be thrown out of balance in the so-called twisted alkene.

These electrons vibrated with slightly less force, distorting the structure in a completely different way than what is known as the cyclobutadiene ring.

Each product is then returned to its original state by a pulse of electrons, ready to be flipped again at any moment.

By causing a single molecule to twist into different shapes or isomers using voltages and microcurrents, researchers can gain insight into its electron behavior, stability, and preferred configurations of organic compounds.

From there, it will be possible to shorten the search for catalysts that can drive the large-scale reaction of countless molecules in one direction, making the reaction more specific.

Previous studies have used similar techniques to visualize the reduction of individual molecules and even to control individual steps in a chemical reaction.

Research like this not only helps make chemistry more precise, but also provides engineers with new precision tools for machining at the nanoscale, faking carbon scaffolds into exotic shapes unattainable in conventional chemistry.

This study was published in the journal The science.

Source: Science Alert.