The fastest ever observations of protons moving within a molecule open a new window on fundamental processes in chemistry and biology, researchers report today in the journal Science.
Their capturing of the movements of the lightest and therefore speediest components of a molecule will allow scientists to study molecular behaviour previously too fast to be detected. It gives a new in-depth understanding of how molecules behave in chemical processes, providing opportunities for greater study and control of molecules, including the organic molecules that are the building blocks of life.
The high speed at which protons can travel during chemical reactions means their motion needs to be measured in units of time called 'attoseconds', with one attosecond equating to one billion-billionth of a second. The team's observation of proton motion with an accuracy of 100 attoseconds in hydrogen and methane molecules is the fastest ever recorded. Dr John Tisch of Imperial College London says:
"Slicing up a second into intervals as miniscule as 100 attoseconds, as our new technique enables us to do, is extremely hard to conceptualise. It's like chopping up the 630 million kilometres from here to Jupiter into pieces as wide as a human hair."
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Monday, March 06, 2006