In the modern world of material science, molecules once thought impossible to make are now slowly becoming reality. Last year, scientists at IBM created triangulene. As the name suggests, triangulene is a triangular shaped molecule, but it is also a close relative of graphene. First produced in 2004, graphene is a flat, two-dimensional sheet of carbon atoms bonded together to form a strong but flexible honeycomb network. Graphene has been revolutionary, and has made a major impact in areas ranging from electronics to water purification. It is quite possible triangulene will continue the trend set by its predecessor.
Scientists used nanotechnology methods known as STM (scanning tunneling microscopy) and AFM (atomic force microscopy) to remove extraneous hydrogen atoms from a precursor 2D molecule. This resulted in 6 carbon rings arranged in a triangle pattern and exactly 2 unpaired electrons. The production of triangulene represents a landmark success for STF/AFM methods. The achievement also serves as proof that making exotically-shaped graphene structures, perhaps even 3D structures, is possible.
Triangulene’s properties have yet to be characterized. The molecule’s 2 unpaired electrons have aligned spins, which means triangulene is magnetized and highly suitable for quantum computing and spintronics. Researchers hope that the electron spins can be manipulated to encode information. One would also expect that the unpaired electrons might make triangulene unstable and highly reactive to any nearby molecules. Contrary to expectations, triangulene is so stable that the molecule sat on a copper plate for four days with no reaction, leaving researchers with quite the puzzle to solve.
Acknowledgements: Many thanks to Sai Paladugu for his comments on this article. Sai is currently a senior physics undergraduate at Georgia Tech working in Martin Mourigal’s quantum condensed matter lab.
Managing Correspondent: Zane Wolf
Original Article: Synthesis and Characterization of Triangulene – Nature Nanotechnology
Other Media Coverage: Scientists have created a long-fabled triangle-shaped molecule in lab – ScienceAlert; Elusive triangulene created by moving atoms one at a time – Nature News; Triangulene, reactive, magnetic relative of graphene finally produced – Ars Technica
Related SITN Articles: Graphene: the coolest material that shouldn’t exist
Image Credit: Niko Pavlicek, IBM Research