Chemiscope to catch chemistry in the act

What the microscope did to unlock the secrets of biology, the “chemiscope” is intended to do, to revolutionize chemistry. The ultimate goal is to observe chemistry in the act, to see the making and breaking of bonds in real-space and real-time.

The challenge is great. To see individual atoms, spatial resolution must be improved by a factor of 10,000 over the best optical microscope. To see molecules in motion, the images must be recorded at a frame rate of a thousand million million per second (a frame / femtosecond). The two capabilities must be combined to reach joint space-time resolution at Å-fs limit, to record moving pictures of elementary steps in chemistry.

The ability to see the world of molecules, atoms and bonds, in real space-time, would completely shift the paradigm in chemical inquiry.

Seeing is the first step toward manipulating individual atoms and molecules, to atomistically engineer molecules and control chemistry. Such a capability will drive future innovations in chemistry, and in industries based on nanotechnology and molecular electronics.

With support from the National Science Foundation (NSF), the Center for Chemistry at the Space-Time Limit (CaSTL), is a nexus of the multidisciplinary expertise required to develop the enabling science and technology to make the Chemiscope a reality. With UCI chemist Ara Apkarian as Center Director, a group of scientists with backgrounds in chemistry, physics, and engineering, from multiple universities and industry, have joined forces toward this mission. The video clip highlighted recent recordings of: the motion of one electron inside one molecule, the quantum mechanical motion of a single chemical bond in an ensemble and in solo, the hula hoop like orbiting of an orbital, breaking and making of designated single bonds on a single molecule. These measurements were made using instruments developed within the Center, by groups led by Profs. V. A. Apkarian, E. Potma, and W. Ho of UCI. The animated clip of the breaking of a bond is a simulation contributed by Prof. F. Furche.

CaSTL is one of the NSF-funded Centers for Chemical Innovation (CCI), research centers focused on major, long-term fundamental chemical research challenges. CCIs that address these challenges will produce transformative research, lead to innovation, and attract broad scientific and public interest. The mission of the Center for CaSTL is to develop and apply the chemiscope to solve grand challenges in chemistry. Heterogeneous catalysis, photocatalysis, and plasmonic chemistry are targeted examples where to make credible progress it is essential to “see” the workings of individual molecules and their reactive sites.

Provided by the National Science Foundation

Runtime: 3:01

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