The Coldest Bonds In The History Of Molecular Couplings

  • Researchers create the coldest bond the world has ever seen by forcing two potassium rubidium (KRb) molecules to meet and react. 
  • The reaction took place at 500 nanokelvin (-273.1499995 °C).

Chemical reactions are the most crucial events in the universe. It is because of chemical reactions that plants grow, animals reproduce, heal, digest, and think. Photosynthesis, combustion, rust, cooking, aerobic and anaerobic respiration, are all examples of chemical reactions.

Observing reactions at a fundamental level could help scientists understand the properties of matter, how samples interact with other matter, and how the natural world works. Novel molecular coupling, for instance, could enable the production of new materials and more efficient energy.

Recently, researchers at Harvard University developed new equipment to achieve the lowest temperature chemical reactions of almost all existing technology. They were able to form the coldest bond the world has ever seen by forcing two ultracold molecules to react.

The reaction took place at 500 nanokelvin (-273.1499995 °C). At such ultracold temperatures, molecules tend to slow to the point of almost stopping. According to the researchers, they have reached a sort of bottleneck effect.

Why This Is Important?

Chemical reactions occur in a picosecond, one trillionth of a second. To put this into context, a picosecond is to one second as one second is to 31,689 years.

Since the past two decades, scientists have been using ultrafast lasers to capture images of reactions as they occur. However, they haven’t been able to see the complete picture.

What we usually see is reactants disappear and products appear in a very short but measurable time. Until now, there were no direct measurements of what exactly happened in between.

Reference: ScienceMag | DOI:10.1126/science.aay9531 | The Harvard Gazette 

What researchers did is they forced chemical reactions to a relatively numbed speed, by decreasing the temperature of reacting molecules to near absolute zero. They forced two potassium rubidium (KRb) molecules to meet and react at a temperature of 500 nanokelvin.

Coldest BondsIt took them 5 years to build the equipment capable of achieving this feat 

Because of ultracold temperatures, these molecules linger in an intermediate state for a few microseconds, which is enough time to investigate the reaction.

They used a combination of mass spectrometry and velocity-map imaging to observe reactants, intermediates, and products of the reaction. This is the first time a chemical reaction has been captured in its most critical and elusive act.

Read: A Video Showing Chemical Reactions In Unprecedented Detail

In addition to observation of energy-rich intermediate complex, the study opens many possibilities for exploring the detailed role of quantum mechanics in the ultracold regime by measuring the lifetime of the intermediate complex, testing the transition from quantum to semiclassical reactions, and resolving the quantum states of the reaction products.

Written by
Varun Kumar

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