• picture
  • picture
PRI's Environmental News Magazine

Science Note: Supermolecular Suitcases

Air Date: Week of September 30, 2011

stream/download this segment as an MP3 file

Researchers at New York University and the University of Milan created a hollow ‘suitcase’ structure that can capture unstable molecules or transport chemical catalysts. Its deometric shape comes all the way from the ancient Greek physicist Archimedes. Living on Earth’s Daniel Gross reports.


GELLERMAN: Coming up, a long haul driver turns to truckin' with a 2 wheeler. But first, here's this week's Note on Emerging Science from Daniel Gross.


GROSS: The shape of a soccer ball might be good for something off the field – capturing and carrying elusive molecules.


GROSS: A team of chemists based at New York University recently scored a victory in the laboratory by creating a hollow three-dimensional ‘supermolecule.’ A supermolecule can work like a ‘chemical suitcase’ and hold smaller molecules inside.

The scientists first create hexagonal tiles from everyday elements like carbon and nitrogen. Molecular bonds help the tiles interlock like puzzle pieces. Then, the researchers add a chemical solution and the tiles spontaneously fold into a 3-D shape – like a piece of origami.

Groups of ‘supermolecules’ stick together like honeycomb. That means scientists can trap and move large quantities of particles - even unstable molecules that otherwise can’t be nabbed. Researchers can also dissolve these ‘chemical suitcases’ in a different solution. That means ‘supermolecules’ can deliver helpful catalysts to spur chemical reactions.

Over two thousand years ago, the Greek physicist Archimedes envisioned just this structure and 12 others with geometric faces like triangles, hexagons, and octagons. But this is the only form scientists have managed to build on the scale of atoms.

So chemistry’s newest trick comes from some of the oldest physics in history. That’s this week’s note on emerging science. I’m Daniel Gross.




Read the abstract or purchase the paper from Science Magazine

See 3-D animations of the “molecular suitcase”


Living on Earth wants to hear from you!

P.O. Box 990007
Prudential Station
Boston, MA, USA 02199
Telephone: 1-617-287-4121
E-mail: comments@loe.org

Donate to Living on Earth!
Living on Earth is an independent media program and relies entirely on contributions from listeners and institutions supporting public service. Please donate now to preserve an independent environmental voice.

Living on Earth offers a weekly delivery of the show's rundown to your mailbox. Sign up for our newsletter today!

Sailors For The Sea: Be the change you want to sea.

Creating positive outcomes for future generations.

Innovating to make the world a better, more sustainable place to live. Listen to the race to 9 billion

The Grantham Foundation for the Protection of the Environment: Committed to protecting and improving the health of the global environment.

Energy Foundation: Serving the public interest by helping to build a strong, clean energy economy.

Contribute to Living on Earth and receive, as our gift to you, an archival print of one of Mark Seth Lender's extraordinary hummingbird photographs. Follow the link to see Mark's current collection of photographs.