Helical shapes are very common in the natural world and, at the molecular degree, of DNA, the blueprint of life.
Scientists at the Bristol University have now discovered that carbon chains can also adopt helical shapes; however, not like DNA, the form relies on how many atoms there are in the chain, with chains consisting of even numbers of carbon atoms adopting helical, fusilli-like shapes and chains with odd numbers of carbon atoms taking floppy, spaghetti-like shapes.
The difference between order and chaos is a single carbon atom. The study is featured immediately in the journal Nature Chemistry.
Carbon chains are like spaghetti—they’re floppy and take a set of random and constantly modifying shapes.
The Bristol group, from the University’s School of Chemistry, confirmed that by judicious insertion of methyl substituents alongside carbon chains, they could monitor their form so that they adopted well-outlined linear (penne) or helical (fusilli) shapes.
The helical conformations can adopt either right or left-handed helices and the group had been to know what controlled which helix was developed.
This type of odd-even effect has been noticed in some bulk properties, corresponding to in carpets of alkanethiols on a gold surface; however, such behaviors in solution are not well- understood.
Through computation and measurement of molecular properties, the lead author Prof. Varinder Aggarwal and his team could fully understand the origin of this odd-even effect, which is controlled by the end groups.
Carbon networks with an even number of atoms will result in molecules with well-formed helical shapes for their software as non-switchable inflexible materials or as scaffolds for the presentation of molecular recognition elements.