Researchers create a molecule that can pave the way for mini-transistors

Manufacturing very small components is a significant challenge in both research and development. Transistors are an example of this: the smaller they are, the faster and more energy-efficient our computers become. But is there a limit to the size of small logic gates? And is it possible to create electric machines on a molecular scale? Yes, maybe, is the answer of a Lund University chemistry research team.

“We have developed a simple hydrocarbon molecule that changes shape, and at the same time goes from insulator to conductor, when exposed to an electrical potential. The successful formula was to engineer a so-called anti-aromatic ring into a molecule so that it would become more robust and could both receive and relay electrons,” says Daniel Strand, a chemical researcher at Lund University.

Illustration of electrons transferred between aromatic and non-aromatic rings in a hydrocarbon molecule. Credit: Daniel Strand/Jonas Ahlstedt

Many organic molecules consist of aromatic benzene rings, that is, flat rings composed of six carbon atoms. A simple example is[{” attribute=””>graphene. However, such molecules do not change properties or shape if subjected to electric potential. Therefore, the research group chose to look at hydrocarbons made up of rings with eight carbon atoms. These are anti-aromatic and bent into a tub-shape. If two electrons are injected into such a molecule, it flattens and goes from insulating to conducting – a function similar to that of a transistor switching from 0 to 1.

“A unique aspect of the molecules is that they are so simple. They only consist only of carbon and hydrogen atoms which makes them easier to produce synthetically,” says Daniel Strand. 

The discovery means researchers can now think about how to develop both electrical switches and new mechanical systems at the single-molecule level using anti-aromatic hydrocarbons. 

“Molecules that change form in response to electric potential lead to exciting possibilities. One can imagine energy-efficient computer architectures and in the future perhaps electric machines on a molecular scale,” concludes Daniel Strand.

Reference: “Electro-mechanically switchable hydrocarbons based on [8]annulenes” by Magdalena Tasić, Jakov Ivković, Göran Carlström, Michaela Melcher, Paolo Bollella, Jesper Bendix, Lo Gorton, Petter Persson, Jens Uhlig and Daniel Strand, February 14, 2022, Nature Communication.
DOI: 10.1038/s41467-022-28384-8

The study was an interdisciplinary collaboration between research groups in organic, analytical and theoretical chemistry as well as chemical physics at Lund University and the University of Copenhagen.

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