Scientists from IBM Research Zurich just created a tiny 5-ringed molecule called olympicene that is only 1.2 nanometers wide— about 100,000 times thinner than a human hair. The new graphite molecule is remarkably strong, and it could prove invaluable in a range of applications including solar panels and LED systems.
The molecule’s name is fitting, since it looks like the Olympic rings and London is set to host this year’s Olympic Games. It was conceived by Graham Richards, a member of the U.K.’s Royal Society of Chemistry Council. Speaking to BBC News, Richards said: ”I was in a committee meeting of the Royal Society of Chemistry where we were trying to think of what we could do to mark the Olympics. It occurred to me that the molecule that I had drawn looked very much like the Olympic rings, and it had never been made.”
Working with University of Warwick researchers Anish Mistry and David Fox, IBM Research Zurich used synthetic organic chemistry to create the five-ringed molecule, and they viewed its structure using scanning tunneling microscopy. The Physics of Nanoscale Systems Group in Zurich were then able to analyze the chemical structure of olympicene with unprecedented resolution using a complex technique known as noncontact atomic force microscopy. Once completed, the five-ringed structure was entered on ChemSpider, the RSC’s free online chemical database of over 26 million records. However, the team is keen to underline that their creation isn’t just a publicity tie-in.
“Alongside the scientific challenge involved in creating olympicene in a laboratory, there’s some serious practical reasons for working with molecules like this,” said chemist David Fox in a press release. The compound is related to single-layer graphite, also known as graphene, and is one of a number of related compounds which potentially have interesting electronic and optical properties. For example, these types of molecules may offer great potential for the next generation of solar cells and high-tech lighting sources such as LEDs.”
Watch a video of olympicene’s creation below.