The nanoscale device revealed never-before seen compounds.
University of Cambridge scientists have gotten an unprecedented glimpse at chemical reactions in real-time, thanks to a new molecule-sized "camera."
The device, little more than a clump of gold nanoparticles, semiconductor nanocrystals called quantum dots, and a molecular "glue," uses a process similar to photosynthesis to reveal exactly what's happening while various molecules interact with each other during a reaction, according to research published in the journal Nature Nanotechnology on Thursday.
The device offers a far simpler way of monitoring how various chemical compounds form during reactions than the methods currently available to scientists, and the team that built the "camera" says it's already using it to improve the technology behind solar cells.
Just Add Water
Controlling the specific order and process of molecular assembly is notoriously difficult, especially at such tiny scales. Thankfully, the scientists realized that they merely had to plunk its components into room-temperature water — along with whatever molecules they wanted to study — and it would piece itself together automatically.
"We were surprised how powerful this new tool is, considering how straightforward it is to assemble," first study author and Cambridge chemist Kamil Sokolowski said in a press release.
Hit the Brakes
It still took a few tries, though. In the team's first attempt, the gold nanoparticles grew out of control, falling out of solution and ruining the experiment. But once they added in the quantum dots, the camera limited and regulated its own assembly and stopped at the appropriate size.
"This self-limiting property was surprising, it wasn’t anything we expected to see," study coauthor Jade McCune, another Cambridge chemist, said in the release. "We found that the aggregation of one nanoparticulate component could be controlled through the addition of another nanoparticle component."
READ MORE: Nano 'camera' made using molecular glue allows real-time monitoring of chemical reactions [University of Cambridge]