Getting close to nature

July 30, 1999

It is correct to highlight the advances in self-organisation in organic molecular science, so-called supramolecular science (Cutting edge, THES, July 16). But even greater advances will have to be made if we are even to come close to nature's remarkable processes in self-assembled inorganic crystals.

A classic recent example is the High Tc (high-temperature) superconductor. A "simple" solid-state ceramic reaction for the chemical synthesis of the High Tc superconductor HgBa2CuO4 represents the total synthesis of a crystal-engineered solid of some 1020 atoms, self-assembled, fashioned and self-regulated by natural processes to a bewildering level of precision.

This relatively simple solid-state synthesis can produce new compounds and materials with quite remarkable electrical and magnetic properties. For example, the compound exhibits no resistance to the passage of electric current up to a record-breaking temperature of 109oC, only 19 degrees below the lowest recorded ground temperature on our planet.

This, then, is the pinnacle of self-assembly in a non-biological system.

Peter P. Edwards and Martin O. Jones School of chemistry University of Birmingham

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