New research explains why some molecules have irregular forms | 7/2/2018 | Staff
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There's always a reason for the way molecules form and how they are shaped. Once researchers understand the bonds in molecules, they figure out ways to use the materials they form to the best advantage, unlocking new innovations for science and technology.

But there's one bond that had scientists stumped – the bond between some types of metals and carbon. Professor of Chemistry Timothy Hanusa and Ph.D. student Ross Koby set out to replicate this unique type of bond using modeling technology.

Models - Shape - Molecules - Life - Bonds

"If we could get the molecular models to form the same shape as the molecules do in real life, we would be able to understand why the bonds form in such irregular shapes," Hanusa said.

By changing the modeling calculations and incorporating additional data, the team found new factors accounting for the formation, challenging existing theories. They recently outlined their finding for the website Science Trends.

Metal - Carbon - Bonds - Question - Occur

The metal and carbon bonds in question occur in compounds that look like Oreo cookies: in the middle is the metal, and it's surrounded on either side by rings of carbon. Just like with an Oreo cookie, the rings are generally parallel and balanced, keeping the negatively charged rings as far away from each other as possible. But in some of these compounds, particularly with rare earth metals like samarium or heavier metals like calcium and strontium, the rings slope toward each other, bending so they almost touch at one side.

In the case of the rare earth metals, this can be explained by covalent bonding—the two sides of the molecule are sharing electrons back and forth, in a pattern like a figure-8 that's been folded over at the center.

Metals - Bond - Atoms - Sides - Magnet

But for the heavier metals with a more ionic bond, where atoms attract like two sides of a magnet, the negatively charged sides should repel each other.

Scientists previously...
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