Olympicene: Smallest 5-Ringed Structure Ever Created

May 27, 2012 Updated: October 1, 2015

A tiny molecule called olympicene has been synthesized by a team of European scientists. The molecule, C19H12, is only 1.2 nanometers wide—about 100,000 times thinner than a human hair.

The idea began with Graham Richards, a member of the U.K.’s Royal Society of Chemistry Council.

“When doodling in a planning meeting, it occurred to me that a molecular structure with three hexagonal rings above two others would make for an interesting synthetic challenge,” he explained in a press release.

“I wondered: could someone actually make it, and produce an image of the actual molecule?”

Olympicene. The black bar corresponds to 0.5 nanometers. (IBM Research - Zurich, University of Warwick, Royal Society of Chemistry)
Olympicene. The black bar corresponds to 0.5 nanometers. (IBM Research - Zurich, University of Warwick, Royal Society of Chemistry)

Researchers at the U.K.’s University of Warwick used synthetic organic chemistry to create the five-ringed molecule and viewed its structure via scanning tunneling microscopy.

“Alongside the scientific challenge involved in creating olympicene in a laboratory, there’s some serious practical reasons for working with molecules like this,” said chemist David Fox in the release.

“The compound is related to single-layer graphite, also known as graphene, and is one of a number of related compounds which potentially have interesting electronic and optical properties,” he continued.

“For example, these types of molecules may offer great potential for the next generation of solar cells and high-tech lighting sources such as LEDs.”

Then, Swiss physicists at IBM Research-Zurich analyzed olympicene’s chemical structure using an extremely high-resolution technique called noncontact atomic force microscopy (AFM).

“The key to achieving atomic resolution was an atomically sharp and defined tip apex as well as the very high stability of the system,” said Leo Gross at IBM Research-Zurich in the release.

“We prepared our tip by deliberately picking up single atoms and molecules and showed that it is the foremost tip atom or molecule that governs the contrast and resolution of our AFM measurements.”

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