Skip to main content

UVM scientists create nanoscale wrench to build never-seen-before materials

UVM chemistry team invents new technique for controlling molecular shape
We make custom cases for our smartphones, custom sneakers from our photos and custom skins for our notebooks. And now, thanks to a breakthrough from scientists at the University of Vermont, we may be able to use nanowrenches to make custom molecules that could form the basis for the next generation of synthetic materials and medicines.

A team of researchers, led by UVM assistant professor of chemistry Severin Schneebeli, has discovered a way to create a nanoscale wrench that can be used to adjust the shape of other molecules. Similar to how a mechanic uses a wrench to adjust a bolt, these nanoscale wrenches can be used to adjust the chemical environment inside other molecules and change the molecule’s symmetry with precision. These newly formed molecules could then be combined to form novel synthetic materials “with properties that, today, no material has.”

Related Videos

The nanowrench is formed using the principles of chirality, in which a molecule has two identical but opposite forms, similar to a human’s left and right hand. Because they are chiral, these molecules can be joined together in one orientation, much like Lego pieces that fit together in a specific way. This one directional joining means the structure can only take one shape and does not twist or rotate into different shapes. “It completely keeps its shape, even in various solvents and at many different temperatures,” explains Schneebeli. This property “makes it pre-organized to bind to other molecules in one specific way.”

The UVM team found that the C-shaped nanowrench binds reliably to “pillarene macrocycles,” a large class of molecules that show promise in controlled drug delivery experiments and other applications. The team was able to manipulate the pillarene rings inside the macrocycles and make the binding inside the rings a hundred times stronger. Schneebeli used computer modeling to predict the action of the wrench and the subsequent rigid binding of molecules, allowing them to know what will happen to the system before synthesizing it in the lab. Following simulation studies, Schneebeli and his team used a mass spectrometer and an NMR spectrometer to confirm the model’s predictions.

After publishing their results online in chemistry journal Angewandte Chemie, the team hopes to modify its C-shaped nanowrenches and create a helical wrench that will be flexible like a spring and still hold its shape under stress. This helical wrench and other future shapes could be used to create even more new materials, some of which may have ground-breaking properties.

Editors' Recommendations

UCI scientists stumble upon the key to never-ending batteries
uci scientists accidentally find key to lifelong batteries batterynano1

What usually happens when someone goofs off at work? For most people this typically means missing a deadline or (at the very least) upsetting your boss who has to tell you, yet again, to get back to work. However, if they happened to be a researcher at the University of California, Irvine, messing around at work could mean stumbling across a revolutionary new finding. Just this week, a team of scientists at UCI reportedly found a way to make lithium-ion batteries stay effective after hundreds of thousands of recharges — aka an eternity. How'd they do it? By horsing around at work, of course.

At a lab on the UCI campus earlier this year, university doctoral candidate Mya Le Thai playfully coated an entire gold nanowire with a manganese dioxide shell and covered its assembly with and electrolyte gel the college describes as "Plexiglas-like." Not only did this unique mixture show incredible resilience and durability, but it allowed the team to dramatically strengthen the filaments found in lithium-ion batteries. Typically fragile (they are thinner than human hair, after all), nanowires tend to fail after being repeatedly cycled — i.e., discharged and recharged.

Read more
Beyond silicon: Scientists craft a diode out of DNA
synthetic dna may hold the key storing data for millenia dnadata

As computing hardware gets smaller and smaller, engineers have worked hard to shrink the silicon used in the processors that power these mini machines. Engineering can only do so much, and we are rapidly reaching the point where silicon is becoming so small that its performance starts to degrade. To move beyond the physical limitations of this material, Scientists have developed a novel substrate  to replace it -- a molecule of DNA.

With funding from the National Science Foundation, researchers from the University of Georgia and the Ben-Gurion University in Israel used a single molecule of DNA to create the world's smallest diode. A diode is a standard electronics component that controls the flow of electricity by allowing it to travel only in one direction.

Read more
This new 3D printer creates structures with gel, could help build living organs
3d printing in gel

3D printing is proving to be a potential game changer for a wide variety of fields. One group in particular that could benefit is the medical community, thanks to a recent development by scientists that could make it easier to print organs from living tissue. How? By printing structures inside of special gel that provides support during the build process.

New Scientist reports that researchers from the University of Florida in Gainesville came to the breakthrough method while searching for a way to enable the printing of items that cannot support their own weight. The technique prints objects inside a acrylic acid polymer gel, a material with roughly the same consistency as hand sanitizer.

Read more