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MIT develops carbine-based binding material

Posted: 04 Jun 2013 ?? ?Print Version ?Bookmark and Share

Keywords:thiols? carbenes? ANHCs? chemical binding?

Chemicals known as thiols have been used by researchers to bind together molecules to gold for the past three decades. Although the technique has been found very helpful in different applications in electronics, sensing and nanotechnology, it has limitations. To overcome these limitations, a team from Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) has developed a new approach that uses a family of chemicals known as carbenes to attach substances to gold. They believe that carbenes could also be attached to other material surfaces as well.

The study is led by assistant professor of chemistry Jeremiah Johnson together with another professor of chemistry Troy Van Voorhis and graduate students Aleksandr Zhukhovitskiy and Michael Mavros.

Thiols have two main limitations in binding other materials to gold, Johnson explained: The binding is relatively weak, so the attached molecules can come loose with heating, and the connection does not typically conduct electricity well, limiting use in electronic devices.

Carbene binding

The diagram shows a gold surface (in yellow) with carbene anchors (green) attaching polymer molecules (purple ribbons) to the surface. Source: Jeremiah Johnson, MIT

The MIT team envisioned that certain carbenes can overcome both hurdles. In so doing, they would enable a wide variety of applications such as in the development of molecular electronics, Johnson said. "You could scale electronic components down to the molecular level by wiring a molecule between two electrodes," he said. "It would be the smallest possible component."

Others have tried to do this with thiol-based connections, but these junctions have a rather large resistance. By comparison, preliminary indications suggest that carbenes could provide highly conductive linkages: "Electrons could flow through it like a wire," Johnson said.

These carbenes could function as "surface anchors" to link many compounds to many different surface materialsa process known to chemists as "functionalizing" the surface. Johnson noted, "I can count on one hand the number of methods you can use to functionalise surfaces, and they are different for different surfaces." The goal is to find a general surface anchor that could make a big difference, he said.

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