Magazine article Science News

Designing a Giant among Molecules: Rydberg Atom Could Form New Kind of Bond, Scientists Propose

Magazine article Science News

Designing a Giant among Molecules: Rydberg Atom Could Form New Kind of Bond, Scientists Propose

Article excerpt

Physicists have predicted the existence of a new kind of gargantuan molecule, large enough to dwarf a virus, with the potential to be in two configurations at once. Such a molecule might prove useful in storing and transmitting quantum information, the researchers report online June 15 in Physical Review Letters.

An atom in an excited state can have an electron that roams very far from its nucleus. These giant "Rydberg atoms" can form molecules more than a thousand times larger than everyday molecules. The newly predicted molecule would be so large that a small virus--itself made of many molecules--could fit inside, says study coauthor Seth Rittenhouse.

In the new study, Rittenhouse and his colleague Hossein Sadeghpour, both of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics in Cambridge, Mass., predicted what would happen to a giant rubidium atom in the Rydberg state if it were brought near a small molecule, composed of potassium and rubidium, with a dipole moment--a positive electrical charge at one end and a negative charge at the other. This charge separation wouldn't be strong enough to rip the wandering electron away from the giant atom. But the electron would find the dipole irresistible, calculations show. "That extra bit of charge is enough to get the electron to stick near it," Rittenhouse says.

In this way, the small molecule and giant atom would form a gigantic Rydberg molecule with a totally new type of chemical bond. "When you talk about chemistry, you talk about bonds," says Rittenhouse. …

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