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UCLA physicists have pioneered a method for creating a unique new molecule that could eventually have applications in medicine, food science and other fields. Their research, which also shows how chemical reactions can be studied on a microscopic scale using tools of physics, is reported in the journal Science.
But the molecule created by UCLA professor Eric Hudson and colleagues violates that rule. Barium-oxygen-calcium, or BaOCa+, is the first molecule ever observed by scientists that is composed of an oxygen atom bonded to two different metal atoms.
Metal - Atom - Barium - Calcium - Oxygen
Normally, one metal atom (either barium or calcium) can react with an oxygen atom to produce a stable molecule. However, when the UCLA scientists added a second metal atom to the mix, a new molecule, BaOCa+, which no longer satisfied the octet rule, had been formed.
Other molecules that violate the octet rule have been observed before, but the UCLA study is among the first to observe such a molecule using tools from physics—namely lasers, ion traps and ultra-cold atom traps.
Hudson - Laboratory - Laser - Light - Amounts
Hudson's laboratory used laser light to cool tiny amounts of the reactant atoms and molecules to an extremely low temperature—one one-thousandth of a degree above absolute zero—and then levitate them in a space smaller than the width of a human hair, inside of a vacuum chamber. Under these highly controlled conditions, the scientists could observe properties of the atoms and molecules that are otherwise hidden from view, and the "physics tools" they used enabled them to hold a sample of atoms and observe chemical reactions one molecule at a time.
The ultra-cold temperatures used in the experiment can also be used to simulate the reaction as it would occur in outer space. That could help scientists understand how certain complex molecules, including some that could be precursors to life, came to exist in space, Hudson said.
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