Nanotechnology a step forward with 3D molecular structures

Scientists have for the first time been able to demonstrate how 3D molecular structures can be built on a surface, a discovery that could be instrumental in the future of nanotechnology.

A paper published by a team of chemists and physicists at the University of Nottingham has shown how they built molecules upwards from a surface, as opposed to 2D formations that have previously been achievable, by introducing a ‘guest’ molecule.  According to the University of Nottingham this new method could have applications in cutting-edge optical and electronic technologies, as well as offering the potential of creating molecular computers.

“It is the molecular equivalent of throwing a pile of bricks up into the air and then as they come down again they spontaneously build a house,” said Professor Neil Champness who led the study. “Until now this has only been achievable in 2D, so to continue the analogy the molecular ‘bricks’ would only form a path or a patio but our breakthrough now means that we can start to build in the third dimension. It’s a significant step forward to nanotechnology.”

The 3D process works through what is known as ‘self assembly’, where a ‘guest’ molecule is introduced to a surface and is spontaneously arranged into a structure.  The previous technique had been to use hydrogen bonds which would hold the DNA together in order to construct a 2D structure.

The work is the culmination of a four year project supported by $5.5 million of funding from the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council.  They made another significant breakthrough recently when they demonstrated for the first time the way in which an irregularly shaped molecule is absorbed on a surface, a step towards helping to harness the potential of the molecules by organising them to form structures. 

It is noted that they could offer a way of building new data storage devices that are orders of magnitude smaller than silicon based equivalents.