Opening the door to the development of molecular chips

25. 03. 2024

Some molecules respond to external light pulses by changing their structure and holding certain states that can be switched from one to another. These are commonly referred to as photoswitches and usually have two possible states. Recently, however, scientists from IOCB Prague have developed a molecule that takes the possibilities of photoswitches a step further. The new molecule can be switched not between two, but between three distinct states. This gives it the ability to hold much more complex information in its molecular structure than has been possible so far. A paper on the topic, co-authored by PhD student Jakub Copko and Dr Tomáš Slanina, has now been published in the journal Chemical Communications.

Although scientists had known that similar molecules could enter a third state, they opted not to study it. The reasoning was that they could not maintain control over the transitions between the individual molecular forms and that the presence of a third form only complicated the behaviour of molecules. Now, researchers from the group led by Dr Tomáš Slanina have overcome this obstacle. "We are able to precisely and selectively switch molecules between three states as we please," says one of the authors of the paper, Jakub Copko.

Structural changes in photoswitches are usually manifested as alterations of their macroscopic properties. When exposed to light of certain parameters, a molecule can, for example, change its colour, which can even be visible to the naked eye. For instance, blue can turn into yellow and vice versa, and the two colours can be treated as zeroes and ones, respectively. Individual molecules thus function in the same way as memory bits and are also easy to read. "There is, however, one difference, namely that thanks to their minuscule size they can store an order of magnitude more information than silicon-based chips," says Dr Tomáš Slanina, pointing out that: "This all works only with photoswitches that are stable enough so as not to switch between individual states spontaneously in the absence of light. It was this very requirement which has so far been so difficult to meet, so experts had never even attempted to achieve a transition into a third state within one molecule. This is only possible thanks to our current discovery."

Upon the transition from the second state to the third, it is not the colour, but the geometry of the molecule that changes significantly. This is especially convenient whenever it is suitable to ‘shape’ a molecule so that it either fits into a target active centre or, conversely, so that it is pushed out of it. All this is triggered by a light pulse of a specific wavelength. The range of possible practical applications is wide. However, because it is such a recent discovery, experts are only beginning to discover its potential.

Please, find the full article with photos here.

Contacts for Media

Markéta Růžičková
Public Relations Manager
 +420 777 970 812

Eliška Zvolánková
 +420 739 535 007

Martina Spěváčková
+420 733 697 112

Logos of the CAS for download

Annual Reports of the CAS

Press Releases