Scientists create artificial molecules that act like the real thing


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Radboud University scientists have created synthetic molecules that mimic real organic molecules. A collaboration of researchers led by Alex Hajetorians and Daniel Wegner can now simulate the behavior of real molecules using artificial molecules. In this way, they can change the properties of molecules in ways that are usually difficult or unrealistic, and have a much better understanding of how molecules change.

Their articles are published in the journal Science.

Emil Sierda, who is in charge of experiments at Radboud University, said: “A few years ago we had a crazy idea to create a quantum simulator. We wanted to make artificial molecules that look like real molecules. So we developed a system where we can trap electrons. The electrons surround the molecule like a cloud, and we capture those trapped electrons. We used it to create an artificial molecule.” The results the team found were surprising. “The similarity between the things we made and the real molecules was striking,” Sierda says.

Changes in molecules

Alex Hadjetorians, Head of Scanning Probe Microscopy (SPM) at Radboud University’s Institute of Molecules and Materials, said: “Making molecules is very difficult. What is often more difficult is understanding how certain molecules behave, such as how they change. when they are twisted or altered”.

How molecules change and interact is the basis of chemistry and leads to chemical reactions such as the formation of water from hydrogen and oxygen. “We wanted to simulate molecules so that we have the ultimate tool to bend them and tune them in ways that are not possible with real molecules. So we can say something about real molecules without actually making them or dealing with them, with the challenges they present, like their ever-changing shape. “.

Using this simulator, the researchers created an artificial version of benzene, one of the key organic molecules in chemistry. Benzene is the first component of a number of chemicals, such as styrene, which is used to make polystyrene. Khajetoorians say, “By making benzene, we modeled the organic molecule in the textbook and created a molecule made of inorganic elements.” In addition, the molecules are 10 times larger than their real counterparts, which makes it easier to work with them.

Practical applications

The uses of this new technique are endless. Daniel Wegner, associate professor of SPM, said: “We started to imagine what this could be used for. We have so many ideas it’s hard to decide where to start.” By using a simulator, scientists gain a much better understanding of molecules and their reactions, which can help in any scientific field.

Wegner adds: “For example, it is very difficult to develop new materials for future computer hardware. By creating a simulation version, we can look for new properties and functionality of certain molecules and evaluate whether it is worth developing a real material.”

In the future, all sorts of things may be possible: understanding chemical reactions step-by-step, like in slow-motion video, or making artificial single-molecule electronic devices, like shrinking the size of a transistor on a computer chip. Quantum simulators are even proposed to be implemented as quantum computers. Sierda says, “But it’s a long way until we can begin to understand molecules in a way we’ve never understood before.”

More information:
E. Sierda et al., A quantum simulator for low-dimensional molecular structure emulation, Science (2023). DOI: 10.1126/science.adf2685.

Presented by Radboud University Nijmegen

Quote: Scientists create artificial molecules that act like real ones (2023, June 8) Retrieved June 8, 2023, from

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