Watching atoms as they dance
© PASIEKA/SPL/Science Photo Library/Getty Images
In a world first, researchers have precisely monitored how three gold atoms jive when an ultraviolet pulse induces them to form a bond.
Knowing how the atoms in molecules move during the course of a chemical reaction would provide researchers with valuable information for manipulating reactions. But it is extremely challenging to experimentally monitor how the atoms of even the simplest molecules move during a reaction.
Now, a team led by KAIST researchers has created real-time movies of the birth of a chemical bond in a reaction that gold cyanide undergoes when irradiated by ultraviolet light.
A technique known as X-ray liquidography allowed them to track the trajectories of three atoms as they covalently bonded to form a trimer. The results showed that the reaction occurred in two separate stages — not in two parallel tracks as previously thought.
The researchers anticipate that using more-intense X-rays would enable the atomic motions of many other chemical reactions to be directly tracked.
- Nature 582, 520–524 (2020). doi: 10.1038/s41586-020-2417-3