clusters can mimic the chemistry of single
atoms of a completely different element.
They become, as some researchers say,
Recently researchers have reported
successes in creating new superatoms and
deciphering their structures. In certain
conditions, even familiar molecules such
as buckyballs — the soccer-ball–shaped
cages made of 60 carbon atoms — unexpectedly turn into superatoms.
Scientists are already studying how
superatoms bind to each other and to
organic molecules. Tracking superatoms
can help researchers learn how biological
molecules move inside cells and tissues, or
determine the structure of those molecules
precisely using electron microscopes.
And by assembling superatoms of elements such as gold, carbon or aluminum,
researchers may soon be able to create
entirely new materials. Such materials
could store hydrogen fuel in solid form
at room temperature, make more powerful rocket fuels or lead to computer chips
with molecule-sized features.
“Designer” materials made of superatoms could have combinations of physical properties that don’t exist in nature.
As Kit Bowen, a chemical physicist at
Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore,
puts it, it’s as if you felt like eating something hot and something cold at the same
this icosahedral cluster of
aluminum atoms behaves
like a halogen.
this unit of three potassium and
seven arsenic atoms has been used
to make a variety of materials.