2SCIEN0CE NEWS OF THE YEAR | Molecules
Pretty darn small Electron
microscopes image single
atoms of hydrogen (SN:
8/16/08, p. 7).
No babies, no hormones
Researchers infuse mouse
cells grown in the lab with
small, customized RNA molecules that could eventually
serve as a hormone-free contraceptive (SN: 7/5/08, p. 9).
Striking Alzheimer’s core
By finding a way to stick an
to a cell’s membrane, scientists may have devised a new
framework for an Alzheimer’s drug (SN: 5/24/08, p. 9).
Quantum difference A study
of heavy water suggests that
quantum effects on bond
length (shown below) could
explain some of ordinary
water’s unusual physical
properties (SN: 8/16/08, p. 7).
It’s DNA, Jim Chemists
synthesize a DNA-like molecule using artificial ver-
sions of the letters that make
up the genetic code (SN:
8/2/08, p. 15).
R.I.P. nanobacteria Objects
once thought to be submicroscopic bacteria turn out to be
balls of protein and calcium
carbonate, but scientists continue to investigate the nanoscale spheres’ link to disease
(SN: 5/10/08, p. 5).
Breath catching The
molecules present in
exhaled breath could serve
as markers for a wide variety
of diseases and reveal exposure to pollutants, studies
show (SN: 7/5/08, p. 5).
Simple blood removal
Household “oxy” cleaners
remove blood almost too
well, which could prevent
forensic investigators from
finding the clues that usually
show up in routine tests, such
as the luminol test above (SN:
12/6/08, p. 12).
Life before proteins The
first living cells could have
acquired nutrients through
membranes made of fat molecules that were different
from those in modern cell
membranes, researchers suggest (SN: 7/5/08, p. 12).
Physicists slow, cool
Laser’s tickle unlocks ultracold realms
By using precisely tuned lasers, physicists have nearly
stopped molecules cold (SN: 12/20/08, p. 22). Usually
molecules zip, spin and quiver with frenetic motion,
giving structure and physical properties to nearly everything that exists. But by curbing molecules’ internal
and external motions, researchers hope to explore
ultracold chemistry, quantum computing and even
exotic forms of matter.
“This is the breakthrough,” says Matthias Weidemüller,
a physicist who was formerly at the University of Freiburg
in Germany and whose group recently made ultracold
lithium-cesium molecules. Another team, including Jun
Ye of the University of Colorado at Boulder, succeeded in
making ultracold molecules of potassium-rubidium. Both
teams used lasers to join two ultracold atoms.
Researchers can now create slow-moving specimens
to poke and prod, enabling experiments that would be
impossible with everyday hot molecules.
“It’s really a new frontier,” says Wolfgang Ketterle, a
physicist from MIT who shared the physics Nobel Prize
in 2001 for pioneering research on ultracold atoms.
In an ultracold cloud held in place by lasers, lithium
and cesium atoms form tightly bound molecules.