Friday, September 11, 2009

What Molecules Look Like

I know that not everyone will find this Science paper [Gross et al. (2009) “The Chemical Structure of a Molecule Resolved by Atomic Force Microscopy”, 325, 1110-1114] as amazing as I do.  But I am a chemist, and when someone shows that they can actually visualize all of the atoms and bonds in a single molecule, I take notice.  Chemists have used a variety of analytical and spectroscopic methods, such as NMR, X-ray diffraction, and mass spec, combined with indirect analysis of chemical reactions, bond theory, and quantum mechanics to deduce the structures of molecules.  We have come a long way technologically since the days of Kekule, who, so the legend goes, deduced the structure of benzene by dreaming of a snake swallowing its own tail.  Still, nobody had actually seen a complete molecule, until now.  We can now imagine what von Leeuenhoek felt when he trained his microscope on the “animalcules” on a sample of pond water for the first time.

If you don’t wish to read the original paper, at least take a look at this feature article about the research in Chemical and Engineering News.  This link also includes a great video that describes the research and its implications.

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