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Controlling chemical mirror images is a complex process

Controlling chemical mirror images is a complex process

It’s not unusual for molecules to have chirality, yet it’s still a unique quality. Chiral molecules (from the Greek word chiros, meaning hand) exist in two mirrored forms that are very similar but not identical, like two hands that may be folded together but cannot be put congruently on top of each other. As a result, we use the term “enantiomers,” which translates to “opposite form” in Greek, to describe right- and left-handed molecules.

Scientists from the Max Planck Society’s Fritz Haber Institute and the Russian Academy of Sciences’ Prokhorov General Physics Institute have collaborated to develop a method for addressing these molecules individually. This is a difficult problem to solve due to the high degree of structural similarity among chiral compounds. “Enantiomers, or ‘hands,’ are exposed to electromagnetic radiation, but only one of them is activated by it. This enables us to regulate and learn more about molecules that are either right- or left-handed “Dr. Sandra Eibenberger-Arias, the leader of the Fritz-Haber-Controlled Institut’s Molecules group, explains this.

It’s crucial to understand this because enantiomers can exhibit a wide range of biological and chemical properties that need an explanation. One “hand” of the chiral chemical carvone smells like mint, while the other “hand” smells like caraway. Thalidomide was an old sleep aid, and it got its name from its main component, which is really two different molecules. While one version worked as intended to relax the patient, the other resulted in harmful side effects, such as fetal abnormalities. The research group of Eibenberger-Arias focuses on the physics of chiral compounds. “A slight variation in energy between the two enantiomers is predicted owing to what is known as parity violation. However, this has yet to be shown experimentally “the first author of the study, JuHyeon Lee of the Fritz-Haber-Institut, says in a statement to Physical Review Letters.

However, the team of experts has got a bit closer to reaching this goal by combining several alternative ways. Chiral molecules in the gas phase are subjected to UV light and microwave radiation. Changing the microwave radiation causes right- and left-handed molecule rotational states to diverge. They now have greater control than ever before over which “hand” is rotating at any one time throughout the experiment. This is a significant step forward in our knowledge of how the underlying physical mechanisms work. For the first time, we can compare experimental data with exact theoretical predictions.

While this technology may not yet be able to completely separate the enantiomers, it is impressive that they could be managed so effectively in the first place. In other words, they don’t have the same physical qualities as is commonly claimed. Sandra Eibenberger-Arias believes that if this were the case, she wouldn’t be able to manage the enantiomers in any way. International experts working together on this project have built a solid platform for future research, and potentially even confirmation of parity violation through experiment. A major step forward in fundamental research, as well as for all of its potential uses in the future.

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