Scientists have discovered that a space inside a special type of carbon molecule can be used to imprison other smaller molecules such as hydrogen or water.
The nano-metre sized cavity of the hollow spherical C60 Buckminsterfullerene or bucky ball effectively creates a 'nanolaboratory', allowing detailed study of the quantum mechanical principles that determine the motion of the caged molecule, including the mysterious wave-like behaviour that is a fundamental property of all matter.
Experiments by the international collaboration of researchers, including physicists from The University of Nottingham, have revealed the wave-like behaviour and show how the imprisoned H2 and H2O molecules 'quantum rattle' in their cage.
Professor Tony Horsewill, of the School of Physics and Astronomy at The University of Nottingham, said: "For me a lot of the motivation for carrying out this investigation came from the sheer pleasure of studying such a unique and beautiful molecule and teasing out the fascinating insights it gave into the fundamentals of quantum molecular dynamics. Intellectually, it's been hugely enjoyable.
"However, as with any blue-skies research initiative there is always the promise of new, often unforeseen, applications. Indeed, in the case of water molecules inside bucky balls we have a guest molecule that possesses an electric dipole moment and the collaboration is already investigating its use in molecular electronics, including as an innovative component of a molecular transistor."
The research, which involved scientists from the US, Japan, France, Estonia and the universities of Nottingham and Southampton in the UK, has recently been published in the prestigious journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS).
The discovery of the C60 Buckminsterfullerene, and the related class of molecules the fullerenes, in the mid-1980s earned Professors Harry Kroto, Robert Curl and t
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University of Nottingham