March 29, 2009

Researchers develop microscopy technique

University of Illinois scientists say they have created a simple technique for studying what happens to small molecules when they are stretched or compressed.

The researchers said with stiff stilbene as a molecular force probe to generate well-defined forces on various molecules, atom by atom, they can observe what is widely otherwise observed only by using expensive atomic force microscopes.

By pulling on different pairs of atoms, we can explore what happens when we stretch a molecule in different ways, chemistry Professor Roman Boulatov said in a statement. That information tells us a lot about the properties of fleeting structures called transition states that govern how, and how fast, chemical transformations occur.

The research will be published in the publication in Nature Nanotechnology. It was posted on the journal's Web site Sunday.

The technique will help scientists develop a chemo-mechanical kinetic theory to explain how force affects rates of chemical transformations, the statement said.

Localized reactions offer the best opportunity to gain fundamental insights into the interplay of reaction rates and molecular restoring forces, but these reactions are extremely difficult to study with a microscopic force probe, Boulatov said.