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article imageOp-Ed: Great science — Artificial designer molecules

By Paul Wallis     Apr 3, 2016 in Science
Researchers in Zurich have created artificial molecules with different properties. The ramifications for experimental science are gigantic, and the practical values of this very new, creative approach to physics is a true breakthrough.
These are basically “designer” molecules. Researchers at ETH Zurich and IBM Research Zurich have developed a method of manufacturing molecules with specific properties. The molecules are built in polymer or silica spheres, and so far they’ve developed a range of different molecules with unique properties.
This is the method according to
To prepare the micro-objects, the ETH and IBM researchers use tiny spheres made from a polymer or silica as their building blocks, each with a diameter of approximately one micrometre and different physical properties. The scientists are able to control the particles and arrange them in the geometry and sequence they like.
This is a different form of nano-science, the first form of nano custom manufacturing, with the ability to create task-specific molecules. It’s hard to envisage a bigger deal in terms of real practical values for all the sciences.
It’s impossible to overstate the value of this methodology. It’s a big step in physical science in just about every possible way. The ability to create distinct properties in molecules essentially opens the floodgates for research, development, and materials management.
It also offers potentials for staggering improved efficiencies.
• Micro scale is far more cost efficient. Efficiencies of scale in the ability to work in such fine detail with physical properties, can instantly reduce costs, simplify access to materials, and allow a range of experimentation which would otherwise be expensive and cumbersome. It also reduces risk, in terms of major commitments to large scale; you can experiment in micro with less financial downside than in macro.
• Efficiencies of time, allowing precision manufacturing of nano-scale materials to specific design requirements, could drastically reduce the “drag factor” from pure research to working forms. Research time is expensive; blind alleys and wasted time cost huge amounts of values, notably in commitment of resources. The scale/time/resources equation is a huge leap in values for research.
1. You want to watch a fungus at work in real time destroying a piece of timber. You create a material which can “ride” the fungus as it works. Your molecules act as markers for fungal behaviors. You can track chemical processes, materials breakdown and all you need to do is create the right molecules.
2. You want to get inside a process during manufacturing a product. This is how you do it, same as above, with tailored molecules to deliver the information you need.
3. You need a totally different material, with particular capabilities. Your new molecular LEGO set can do it.
4. You need a working palette for your experimental geniuses to solve problems. This is it.
Moving atoms around isn’t new. Creating brand new designer molecules is. The big difference here is that the new method creates the ability for systemic experimentation and analysis in pure research, a sort of Holy Grail of physics.
I have to say in all fairness that this is truly great science. It’s a whole new field, perhaps a whole new science in itself, in embryo. It’s surprisingly easy to visualize evolutions of this method which could literally change the world.
I hope somebody’s thinking of throwing a few Nobel Prizes at these researchers, because this is one of the most useful things the science of physics has ever achieved.
This opinion article was written by an independent writer. The opinions and views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily intended to reflect those of
More about Eth zurich, IBM Zurich, artificial molecules, nano science, nano scale research
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