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Scientists Develop New Nanomaterial that Can Detect Twists in Molecules

Studying materials and molecules at the nanoscale brings a bevy of challenges to scientists. After all, they are looking at materials that are 10,000 times smaller than a pinhead. 

A big problem has long been the ability to test how these materials twist. A molecule could twist in one direction and emanate a smell or reaction that is different if it twists in another direction. But because they are so tiny, it’s hard to detect those twists. 

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New nanomaterial can overcome the challenge of seeing twists 

Researchers at the University of Bath have developed a new nanomaterial that can help overcome that challenge and aid an array of industries in developing medicines, perfumes, food additives, and pesticides. The work was published in Nanoscale Horizons. 

“Molecular chirality is an amazing property to study. You can smell chirality since the same but oppositely twisted molecules smell of lemons and oranges. You can taste chirality, since one twist of Aspartame is sweet and the other is tasteless. You can feel chirality, since one twist of menthol gives a cool sensation to the skin while the other does not,” said  Ph.D. student Alex Murphy, who worked on the study in a press release. “You touch chirality expressed in the twist of seashells. And it is great to see chirality expressed in its interactions with the colours of laser light.”

As it stands it is hard to determine the twists of the nanomaterials from the twist of the molecules they are supposed to help study. To overcome that a team from the University of Bath’s Department of Physics developed a nanotube material that can be twisted and untwisted. The material has an equal number of opposite twists so that the twists from both can be canceled out. 

An important roadblock now lifted

The scientists then applied a mathematical equation to bring the hidden twist to light and detect the chirality in the molecules being studied. 

“This work removes an important roadblock for the entire research field and paves the way to ultra-sensitive detection of chirality in molecules, using nanomaterials,” said Professor Ventsislav Valev, the lead author of the study from the University of Bath Department of Physics in the press release. 

Source: Interesting Engineering