The existence of molecules was proven unambiguously at the beginning of the last century, most notably by the work of Albert Einstein. However, more than a hundred years later the study and manipulation of matter at the level of the single molecule still remains a formidable challenge.
Andrei Khlobystov and Elena Besley, two chemists at The University of Nottingham, in collaboration with leading electron microscopy experts Ute Kaiser and Johannes Biskupek at Ulm University, Germany are tackling this problem. By developing a strategy to bridge the molecular with the macroscopic with nanoscale structures, such as carbon nanotubes and graphene, they hope to achieve results so far elusive.
The team has demonstrated carbon nanotubes as the world’s smallest test tubes, winning a Guinness World Record in the process, that can entrap, order, align, deliver and release molecules in a controlled manner. This allows them to work against entropy and chaotic molecular motion. Atomically thin nano test tubes combined with cutting-edge transmission electron microscopy (TEM) methods not only allows for the study of the molecular structure of materials, but also reveal dynamic behaviour and chemical reactions at the single molecule level. This has a dramatic impact on the way we study and make molecules, as our understanding of them grows.
This international collaboration will be significantly assisted by the new Nanoscale and Microscale Research Centre (NMRC), which will launch at The University of Nottingham in 2016.