Biochemistry, Nanotechnology, and the Future Help (page 3)

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By — McGraw-Hill Professional
Updated on Aug 29, 2011

Physical Chemistry

Research started from the middle of the 1900s and on pointed toward particles of even smaller dimensions than atoms, called hadrons and leptons .

Hadrons are made up of baryons and mesons . Baryons are made up of protons, neutrons, and other short-lived particles. Mesons are made up of pions, kaons , and other short-lived particles. Leptons are made up of electrons and different types of neutrinos ( tau and muon ). You can’t really see or measure any of these, but only record their effects. It is a lot like the wind. Leaves can blow around like crazy, but unless there is dust in the air, you can’t see exactly what is happening.

Hadrons are also made up of even tinier particles called quarks . Six kinds of quarks have been described. They are: up, down, charm, strange, top , and bottom . Each has a different charge and there are also anti-quarks with the opposite charges of their twin.

Strange and charming molecular chemists work with protons, electrons, and neutrons as we have seen throughout our study of chemistry. Quarks and quark theory occupy the thoughts of the theoretical physicist. These scientists search for insight into nuclear binding energy, the energy that keeps various nucleons together in the nucleus, and how everything comes together in the greater picture of chemical interactions.


The subject of the tsunami (really big wave) of current scientific research is in the area of nanotechnology . An entire special issue, the September 2001 issue of Scientific American , was devoted entirely to the topic. The “big guns” in the field described their work in the areas of Medical Nanoprobes, Buckytube Electronics, Living Machinery, Atom-Moving Tools, New Laws of Physics, and Nano Science Fiction. The cover story of Scientific American’s January 2003 issue describes “The Nanodrive.” Through the use of individual silicon molecules and etching onto a special polymer medium, computer drives of the future will process and perform data storage tasks of several gigabytes of information on a chip the size of a postage stamp.

Nanotechnology is the study of elements at the single atom level or 10 –9 (1 billionth of a meter) scale.

To put the nanometer scale into everyday measurements, think of the size of a person 2 meters tall (about 6 feet). A gnat, 2 millimeters long is 1000 times smaller than a person 2 meters tall. One cell in a gnat’s body has a nucleus of about 2 micrometers long or 1000 times smaller than the size of the entire gnat’s body. A nanoscale molecule is roughly 2–10 nanometers long or 1000 times smaller than the length of the nucleus of a gnat’s cell.

Nanomolecules are super small!

American molecular chemist, Richard Smalley, at Rice University in Houston, Texas, studies atoms and molecules at the nanomolecular level. His research with soccer ball-shaped carbon molecules led him to receive the 1996 Nobel Prize for Chemistry along with Robert Curl, Jr. and Harold W. Kroto for the discovery of fullerenes (C 60 ). Smalley’s current research is directed toward fullerene nano structures and involves the investigation of carbon single-wall nanotubes , nanoscale tubular structures built of graphene sheets (fullerenes). His research is geared toward the development, production, characterization, and use of tubular fullerene molecules, nanotube single-crystal growth, nanotube fibers, and other nanotechnology materials and applications.

Molecular Electronics

Currently the “star” of worldwide nanotechnology attention is focused on molecular electronics. Dr. James M. Tour, head of the molecular electronics effort at the Center for Nanoscale Science and Technology at Rice University, whose work focuses on the super small world of nanotechnology, has proposed experiments in which computer electronics are built from the “bottom up,” molecule by molecule. Bottom up nanoscale construction is patterned after nature, with molecules forming cells that form tissues that form organs that form systems that finally form a total organism or person.

Molecular electronics uses individual molecules or very small groups of molecules (carbon, oxygen, hydrogen, and nitrogen) to serve as transistors, conductors, and other electrical parts of computers and circuits.

Current computer processing “chips” are built from the “top down” in incredibly clean (dust-free) environments onto etched gold plates.

Tour’s scientific research areas include molecular electronics, chemical self-assembly, carbon nanotube modification and composite formation, and synthesis of molecular motors and nanotrucks (molecules that bind and transport other molecules back and forth a short distance using an external electrical field) to name a few.

Tour has also attracted the interest of the National Science Foundation and others in his mission to teach chemistry, physics, biology, and materials science at the nanomolecular level through the animated adventures of actual molecules chemically synthesized in his Rice University laboratory. This project, called NanoKids Biochemistry, Nanotechnology, and the Future Molecular Electronics , seeks to open up science with computer animation, music, and a MTV style and make nanoscale science learning fun and simple.

Nanotechnology research has gained the attention of international companies like IBM and Microsoft. Computer circuitry built 100 times smaller than the tiniest components today seems almost miraculous. Molecular chemists are talking about building with atoms and molecules that are not visible with the strongest microscopes.

So how do we know this can be done? Simple chemical interactions and known properties of the elements are used. In fact, most nanomolecules are carbon-based polymers that are very similar to naturally occurring substances that handle electrical impulses all the time, like brain neurons.

Similar to their transferal of electrical impulses in the body, individual molecules alternate between two forms. They act like molecular on/off light switches and can store information or pass it along in a split second or less.

Research is being done to build nanodrives that write, read, and erase data using atoms and molecules, would hold several gigabytes of data and fit on the top of one key from a computer keyboard.

The future of chemistry is as big as our planet and as small as nanomolecules that can never be seen by the human eye. Research and applications of chemistry that consider everything from the purification of our air, to the speed of our computers will be increasingly important for decades to come. The materials and machines of science fiction will become reality as humankind grows in its knowledge of this fascinating science.

Practice problems for these concepts can be found at – Biochemistry and Nanotechnology Practice Test

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