Physicists at the University of Bath, who study materials at the nanoscale — that is, molecules 10,000 smaller than the head of a pin — accurately measured and characterized one coiled nanoparticle. This is another step towards the time when drugs will be produced and mixed on a microscopic scale. Information about the work was published by Nano Letters journal.
Understanding how coiled nanoparticles work in a material (also called chirality) is important in the pharmaceutical, perfume, additive, and pesticide industries because the direction in which a molecule is curled determines some of its properties. For example, a molecule that spins clockwise will smell like lemons, while an identical molecule that spins counterclockwise will smell like oranges.
Chirality is one of the most fundamental properties of nature. It exists in subatomic particles, in molecules (DNA, protein), in organs (heart, brain), in biomaterials (such as shells), in storms, clouds (tornadoes), and in the form of galaxies (spirals flying through space).
Ventsislav Valev, professor and project manager
Until now, physicists have relied on optical methods 200 years ago to determine the chiral properties of molecules and materials, but these methods are outdated and require a large number of molecules or materials to work. Using a technique based on high-power laser pulses, the team has created a much more sensitive chirality probe that can detect a single nanoparticle as it floats freely in a liquid.
There are many potential areas for hypersensitive chiral sounding applications. For example, many pharmaceuticals are chiral. Local pharmacists will be able to use the technology to mix substances in a completely new way, making medicines from small droplets of active ingredients rather than from large glasses of chemicals.
According to Professor Valeev, you can come to the pharmacy with a prescription, and instead of getting the medicine, which must be mixed from bottles with chemicals and then stored in the refrigerator for several days, you will leave with pills, which are miniature laboratories.