Star-Shaped Molecule Created Using Chemistry, Major Breakthrough For Chemical Industry

First Posted: Oct 28, 2015 01:09 PM EDT

A team of researchers have used chemistry to create a star-shaped molecule, which was once considered too unstable to create. The innovative achievement could be a potential means of creating more efficient medicinal agents, according to the recent study from the Australian National University.

"This proof that we can make a compound that so many people thought couldn't be made opens up a world of new possibilities," said Professor Michael Sherburn in a news release, who is a synthetic chemist in the ANU Research School of Chemistry.

Radialene is an organic compound comprised of carbon and hydrogen, and that's connected by ring-like structures. It is very common in the chemical industry, where its ring features are necessary to make many things, from cosmetics to cancer drugs, according to the news release.   

"Hyper-reactive molecules like radialenes form more stable substances very quickly. Their reactions are some of the most powerful chemical transformations known," Sherburn said.

The calculations were carried out using Raijin supercomputer by collaborator Professor Michael Paddon-Row from UNSW. The Raijin is classified as one of the fastest supercomputers in Australia, which cost $35 million ($50 million Australian) to build.

Paddon-Row motivated the researchers to create the elusive molecule, according to Sherburn.

"The compound is 10,000 times less stable than the others in the star-shaped radialene molecule family, which are themselves notoriously unstable," Sherburn said.

It took two years for Sherburn and three generations of Ph.D. students to develop the five radialene. They were successful when they created the molecule as a crystalline metal complex, which is stable since metal protects the molecule from reactions. Without metal, radialene exists for only a few minutes in a very dilute solution at low temperature, according to the researchers.

"Because the structure [5] radialene had never been seen in nature, we had to come up with a really creative method, something new and special," Sherburn said. "It was quite a day when the Ph.D. students brought the X-ray crystal structure to me. We will always try to push back the boundaries of what is known, and what is thought to be possible." 

This study was published in the Journal of the American Chemical Society. 

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