Academic journal article The Science Teacher

Designer Glowing Molecule

Academic journal article The Science Teacher

Designer Glowing Molecule

Article excerpt

A small molecule designed to detect cyanide in water samples works quickly, is easy to use, and glows under ultraviolet or "black" light. Although the fluorescent molecule is not yet ready for market, its Indiana University Bloomington (IU Bloomington) creators report that the tool is already able to sense cyanide below the toxicity threshold established by the World Health Organization (WHO).

"This is the first system that works in water at normal pH levels and can be modified at will to enhance its reactivity," says IU Bloomington chemist Dongwhan Lee, who led the research. "We are now looking at how to make the detector more sensitive." Graduate student Junyong Jo is the report's first author.

One of the reasons the detector is not ready for market, Lee says, is that its optical properties need to be improved to emit light at longer wavelengths with less interference from background signals, especially those of biological origin. Since pond or river water is likely to contain living organisms and other organic matter, Lee says the detector system must be perfected.

Another unique aspect of the detector molecule is its modular structure. "This is an essentially three-component chemical device with an activator, a receptor, and a reporter module," Lee says. "These three components we can change at will in the future, either to make the detector more sensitive, or have it detect an entirely different toxin by sending out signals as different colors of light. Because of the structure's modularity, a change in one of the three components doesn't really affect the others."

Cyanide is a negatively charged ion composed of one carbon and one nitrogen atom. …

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