Heralding the era of new generation advanced materials which are super strong, flexible, and elastic, the University of Manchester broke many world records in science with its team of chemical scientists creating a circular triple helix for making the tightest knot in a physical structure.
They built the knot from a strand of atoms and made it to coil around a triple loop which crosses itself eight times.
Demonstrating the precision with which chemists can manipulate objects at the atomic level, the Manchester feat was an affirmation that the mastery in weaving strands of atoms would open up a whole new world of innovative materials.
"We know how revolutionary knotting and weaving were for people in the Stone Age. It had an impact on clothing, tools, fishing nets and so on. Maybe we'll see just as great advantages from being able to do this with molecular strands," noted David Leigh, a professor of chemistry at the University of Manchester, who also led the research.
Professor Leigh expressed delight at achieving this scientific landmark and noted that eight-crossing molecular knot has been the most complex regular woven molecule ever made by scientists.
The details of the study 'Braiding A Molecular Knot with Eight Crossings' has been published in the Science.
The molecular strands used in the knots were 10,000 times thinner than a human hair and they intersected at eight points with a chain 192 atoms.
The molecular strands were just half a nanometer across and had carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen, and oxygen atoms, noted Leigh.
Eight crossings mean that the strand crossed itself in the knot in a 192-atom long closed loop with 24 atoms at each crossing to make the tightest knotted physical structure.
Leigh explained that the knotting process was done through a technique called self-assembly whereby organic molecular building blocks are mixed with metal ions and chloride ions in a solution. The benefit of self-assembly is that it enables tying many knots at the same time.
Innovating Polymer Strands
The advantage of using different types of molecular knots is that scientists can probe the effects of knotting from the standpoint of strength and explore weaving unique polymer strands for generating new materials.
"Tying knot is a similar process to weaving so the techniques being developed to tie knots in molecules should also be applicable to the weaving of molecular strands," Professor Leigh added.
He explained it by citing bullet-proof vests made of kevlar, which is a plastic in which molecular rods that are rigid arrayed up in a parallel structure.
By interweaving polymer strands, there is a potential to create tougher, lighter, and flexible materials.
Boost For New Generation Materials
Noting the huge potential with the new knotting technique, the Manchester professor cited instances like spider silk, which is a polymer with double the strength of steel.
It then follows that braiding polymer strands can also generate several new generation of super-strong, lighter, and flexible materials that can find vast applications in construction and fabrication.
At the University of Manchester, advanced materials enjoy a higher focus in research for ushering in pioneering discoveries, interdisciplinary collaboration, and cross-sector partnerships to address the issues facing the planet.