The discovery opens up new possibilities for the high-specificity synthesis of valuable but challenging molecules in an environmentally friendly process.
For about a decade, researchers from the Stanford Institute for Materials and Energy Sciences at Stanford University have pursued a research program involving diamondoids—nanosized diamonds made up of as few as 10 carbon atoms. The diamondoids are extracted from petroleum fluids, sorted by size and shape, and put to work in ingenious ways, such as directing the self-assembly of nanowires made of copper and sulfur.
Initially, the researchers had thought that this nanowire material could be a good superconductor, so they performed experiments and calculations to test their ideas. What they found, however, was completely unexpected: the diamondoid–copper–sulfur building blocks they had synthesized did not make a superconductor, but they could be used to trigger chemical reactions with pressure, as opposed to heat or light.
Image: An animation shows how attaching molecular anvils (gray cages) to softer molecules (red and yellow balls) distributes the pressure from a bigger diamond anvil unevenly, so chemical bonds bend and eventually break around the atom that bears the largest deformation (circled red ball).
Credit: Greg Stewart/SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory