A group of scientists from Manchester have achieved the world’s tightest molecular knot, which will allow the development of new materials.
A team from the University of Manchester has managed to tie a molecular knot which is invisible to the eye. This is the first time that such a tight synthetic braid has been achieved, as the scientists have been able to knot together eight crossovers in it. In the future, the work, published in the Science journal, will enable the development of new, lighter and more flexible materials.
In fact, knots exist in everyday objects such as ties or sailors’ knots, but also in biological molecules such as DNA and proteins. Comprehending these types of structures is essential for understanding the properties of materials, such as the rubber which forms part of tyres. This polymer is believed to have molecular knots inside it, giving it elastic properties. “The molecular knot with eight crossovers is the most complex regular “woven” molecule made by scientists until now,” states David Leigh in declarations to the SINC Agency. The researcher is one of the leading experts in the world in the development of these types of structures and, in fact, nearly won the greatest award a scientist can receive. The Nobel Prize in Chemistry, awarded to Jean-Pierre Sauvage, Sir J. Fraser Stoddart and Bernard L. Feringa did not go to Leigh because, according to the rules, only three people can receive it.
Despite losing out on the Nobel Prize, Leigh has continued to work on innovation in a field which may lead to many surprises in the future. As the University of Manchester scientist explained to Hipertextual, “it is the tightest knotted structure ever made and the first molecular knot with three chains.” In order to tie up the braid, the researchers had to perform a self-assembly process whereby the threads were woven around metallic ions forming eight crossover points. The ends of the threads were then joined up to close the loop and tie the knot.
The research, a breakthrough in the field of Chemistry, has achieved a tiny and very tight braid. To understand what dimensions we are talking about, scientist Pablo Ballester explained to Hipertextual that the size of the molecular knot with respect to a macroscopic one “has a relationship similar to that existing between a tennis ball and Planet Earth.” The achieving of the invisible braid will enable new materials to be obtained in the mid term. As Leigh concludes in SINC, the knots may lead to lighter, more flexible and more resistant materials than we currently have, applicable in construction or in the textile industry.
Images | Stuart Jantzen (Biocinematics)