I am regularly fascinated by the work of colleagues who focus on fundamental chemical engineering science. They deepen the understanding of our discipline and they can often help to explain the world that we live in.
An international group of researchers at the US Department of Energy’s SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory has caught my eye. They’ve used an X-ray laser to capture the first glimpse of two atoms forming a bond, and thus becoming a molecule.
The idea that we can actually observe a chemical bond at the point of formation was long thought to be impossible. So, I can’t stress enough the profound impact that this work could have on our understanding.
The research will help to clarify how chemical reactions take place, which in turn, can help us design reactions that generate energy, create new products and fertilise crops more efficiently.
Anders Nilsson, a professor at the SLAC/Stanford SUNCAT Center for Interface Science and Catalysis, US, and at Stockholm University, Sweden, who led the research said: “This is the very core of all chemistry. It’s what we consider a Holy Grail, because it controls chemical reactivity. But because so few molecules inhabit this transition state at any given moment, no one thought we’d ever be able to see it.”