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Scientists at Nanyang Technological University, Singapore (NTU Singapore) have developed a technique to observe how radiation damages molecules over time frames of just one quadrillionth of a second—or a femtosecond.
The technique involves dissolving organic molecules in water to simulate the state molecules are found in biological tissue. This allows the research team to see radiation damage occur in biological tissue and molecules with greater precision and clarity than ever before.
Nuclear - Radiation - Organisms - DNA - Molecules
Nuclear or ionizing radiation can damage organisms by altering DNA and other biological molecules as it disintegrates the chemical bonds holding molecules together.
Using their new technique, the scientists watched the vibrations generated by collisions of ionizing radiation particles with an organic molecule, which eventually caused it to break apart after undergoing violent stretching, bending, and twisting motions. These vibrations only occurred when the molecules were dissolved in water, which represents a significant advance over previous studies.
Associate - Professor - Zhi-Heng - Loh - Chair
Associate Professor Zhi-Heng Loh, an assistant chair at NTU's School of Physical & Mathematical Sciences who led the research, said, "This is the first time anyone has observed ionization-induced molecular dynamics in aqueous solutions on femtosecond time scales. In previous studies, scientists were only able to observe the products of ionization after the molecule had already been broken apart."
Although the hazards of radiation have been widely recognized since the 1930s, when Marie Curie died from anemia caused by her long-term exposure to radioactivity, the exact processes by which ionizing radiation alters molecules are still not completely understood.
Study - Methods - Femtochemistry - Atoms - Molecules
The study used methods from femtochemistry to capture how atoms and molecules behave at ultra-short time scales, as in the formation or breaking of chemical bonds that take a few quadrillionths of a second, or femtoseconds.
Femtochemistry uses lasers that emit extremely brief pulses of light and each pulse creates a snapshot of the chemical reaction. These can...
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