Washington: Scientists have synthesised olympicene – a highly versatile hydrocarbon molecule shaped like the Olympic Games logo.
Olympicenes are like the decathletes of nanoscale molecules. Their range of potential applications include sophisticated sensors, information and energy storage, solar cells and high-tech LEDs.
“An olympicene is a molecule consisting of five rings that resemble the shape of the famous Olympic rings,” said Igor Alabugin, professor at Florida State University (FSU) in the US.
“This new process for synthesising these molecules offers a unique tool for the preparation of structurally precise carbon-rich nanostructures,” said Alabugin.
The first olympicene molecule was unveiled by British chemists in anticipation of the 2012 London Olympics.
Until now, synthesising these unique structures was only possible through an arduous and intensive seven-step process based largely on chemistry dating back to the 1960s.
Using a new technique described in the study published in the journal Angewandte Chemie, the team at FSU fused an additional hexagonal ring of carbon atoms to the zigzag edge of an existing carbon-rich molecule in two quick steps.
“Our success in developing this strategy allowed us to accomplish a two-step synthesis that is much shorter than the previously reported route, even though both methods used the same starting material,” Alabugin said.
It is olympicene’s relationship to graphene – a two-dimensional, single-layer lattice of carbon atoms – that may hold the most promise for these recognisably shaped molecules. Graphene is an efficient conductor of electricity and heat, it is almost completely transparent and, at 200 times stronger than steel, it is the mightiest material ever tested.
Soon after olympicenes were successfully synthesised, researchers recognised the important connection they shared with graphene.
Now, with their new strategy for accelerated olympicene synthesis, researchers revealed a way to better facilitate the production of what some have dubbed a “miracle material.”
“Our approach will allow chemists to synthesise a variety of olympicenes that can serve as stepping stones for the preparation of precisely shaped and functionalised graphene substructures,” Alabugin said.
In honour of this year’s Olympic Winter Games, the team christened the product “Ph-olympicene,” – the “P” reflecting both the phenyl group crucial to the synthesis of the molecule and a subtle nod to the host city PyeongChang.
Alabugin said he considers the timing of his team’s discovery a rare, lucky moment of scientific serendipity.
“The exact timeline for designing, discovering and then having your findings peer reviewed is never certain,” he said. “Publishing this new synthesis of olympicene just in time for the Winter Olympics is indeed a fortunate coincidence,” he said.