June 24, 2015

Giving atoms their marching orders

(June 24, 2015)  Chemistry professor Linda Shimizu oversees a series of crowd-pleasing chemistry demonstrations in middle and high schools throughout central South Carolina every year. They are spirited affairs, and her research in the laboratory is just as dynamic — but with a sense of order that really keeps atoms in line.

Shimizu’s lab recently developed a new system for studying gas flow in the most constricted environment possible. She and her co-workers have synthesized tubes so narrow that atoms can only move through them in single file.

Her team builds the tiny tubes by harnessing a process rooted in a molecular kind of self-love. The chemists first synthesize a cyclic organic compound — a molecular doughnut, if you will — that, by design, has an affinity for its own kind. When the molecular doughnuts are dissolved in a solvent and encounter each other in solution, they stack end-to-end like a roll of Life-Savers.