Olympic gold from molecules

August 9, 1996

The possibility of storing data within a molecule smaller than a grain of salt has come one step closer. Chemists at Birmingham University and Imperial College London have created a complex synthetic molecule by looping five individual molecules together, creating the potential for constructing molecular chains of any length that could be used in information storage.

Fraser Stoddart, professor of organic chemistry at Birmingham, said: "If atoms are letters and molecules words our vocabulary is quite large. Linking molecules together represents a first step towards creating sentences."

Earlier this week scientists released the first pictures of the molecule obtained using X-ray crystallography and showing the 3D arrangement of atoms. Heating or cooling this five-hooped molecule, christened Olympiadane because of its resemblance to the Olympic rings symbol, causes the component rings to rotate, switching the molecule between different stable states and providing the basis for information storage.

The big advantage of a "molecular computer" is size - silicon chips are measured in millimetres, Olympiadane in angstroms or tens of millionths of millimetres.

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