Scientific First: Chemists Capture a Molecule “Breathing” in Real-Time

quantum mechanicsA major breakthrough in science has been accomplished by Chemists at the University of California, Irvine. In fact, it’s more than a breakthrough for the Irvine Chemists, its a scientific first.

The team of Chemists was led by Ara Apkarian, Professor of Chemistry, and Eric Potma, the Associate Professor of Chemistry. Together they have opened a new door into realms of quantum mechanics by capturing images of a single molecule in transition from one quantum state to another.

The team reported that they were successful in capturing moving images of an individual molecule during it’s process of  “breathing” or shifting itself from one quantum state to the next.

What the research showed is that molecules actually oscillate from state to state. Without being able to view this in real time, it could never be clearly understood. When molecules shift or vibrate themselves, this act of oscillating is also known as “breathing”. By observing this movement, you are able to see them transition from different quantum states.

While science has been able to capture still images of single molecules, they have never been able to capture one in motion, as the molecules movement is extremely fast.

The team has now effectively opened numerous opportunities for further research into the molecular world in real time.  Possibilities birthed by this breakthrough include:

  • The ability to create lightning-fast quantum computers
  • Creation of applications for creating uncrackable encryption of private messages
  • See the actual making and breaking of bonds in real time
  • Observe enzymatic reactions as they happen
  • Study cellular dynamics as they occur and so much more.

The chemists achieved this breakthrough by using high powered, extremely fine-tuned lasers and microscopes. In order to track and monitor the molecules, they had the difficult task of attaching antenna made of gold nanospheres to the molecule itself. After the antenna was attached it could then sense and send back information about the vibrations of real time movement from the molecules.

Apkarian and Potma are part of a special research entity funded by the National Science Foundation called the Center for Chemistry at the Space-Time Limit. The research team is comprised of 60 scientist from 5 different campuses.

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