Gene manipulation paved the way for a brand-new chapter in science. Could atom manipulation lead to the same revolution? Would it allow us to create new and exotic molecules? Apparently so!
Chemists have been long fascinated by the idea of manipulating carbon atoms and add to the list of carbon allotropes. These type of structures should theoretically exist; however, making them in the chemistry lab has thus far resulted in little success. The main problem is the high reactivity of carbon rings with oxygen, which causes them to quickly undergo chemical reactions and break down into other compounds once they are formed.
But now, chemists at the University of Oxford and the IBM research lab in Switzerland have successfully used an atom manipulation technique to create a new chemical structure fully made of carbon, called a carbon ring.
Engineering the carbon ring was a delicate process. First they created a carbon-oxygen structure, which they laid on a copper plate covered with sodium chloride, or common table salt. Then, they applied an electric current to the structure to remove the oxygen atoms one by one and obtain the circular 18-carbon ring. They did all of this while peering through special high-resolution microscopes that allowed them to see individual atoms, approaches called scanning tunneling and atomic force microscopy.
The carbon ring is called a cyclocarbon, and early analysis has found that this molecule acts as a semiconductor - meaning that it could be very useful in the future as a tiny transistor. More importantly, this new atom manipulation technique may lead to a burst of new research, and potentially the generation of other new molecules.