Figuring out the 3D structure of a molecule – critical in food production, pharmaceutical development, forensic analysis and more – has never been as easy as it is right now. The most common method is know as X-Ray Crystallography: compounds are simply placed into a solution to promote crystal growth. A single crystal is then separate from the other, and blasted with X-rays; the resulting pattern of diffraction are studied to determine the molecule’s structure. Some substances, however, resist the crystallization method, but a new technique introduced in March will help researchers determine those molecules better.
/READ MORE// Brain interface: next best thing to telekinesis
A team from the University of Tokyo, led by Makoto Fujita, built scaffold-like structures – known as metal-organic frameworks or MOFs – where the empty spaces can absorb molecules and provide an ordered array that allows molecules to be characterized by X-Ray. The method was quickly noted as a game changer, for its ease of use, efficiency and performance with substances that were resistant to the crystallization process.
The project suffered a setback in the summer, when chemists questioned the transferability of the method to a wider range of compounds. In October, independent researchers in both Kyoto and MIT were able to successfully apply the method to other molecules, re-igniting the excitement about the potential for this method to be used in a variety of applications.
There’s more stories from 2013. Check out the Best of 2013 series here