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Molecules exhibit switch ‘handedness’ at speed of light

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A multi-institutional team of researchers including scientists with Los Alamos National Laboratory (of the U.S. Department of Energy’s National Nuclear Security Administration) has created the first artificial molecules whose chirality can be rapidly switched from a right-handed to a left-handed orientation with a beam of light on them.
Switchable molecules hold possibilities for the application of terahertz technologies across a wide range of fields, including biomedical research, homeland security and ultrahigh-speed communications.
Chirality is the distinct left/right orientation or “handedness” of some types of molecules, meaning the molecule can take one of two mirror image forms. The right-handed and left-handed forms of such molecules, called “enantiomers,” can exhibit strikingly different properties. For example, one enantiomer of the chiral molecule limonene smells of lemon, the other smells of orange.
The ability to observe or even switch the chirality of molecules using terahertz (trillion-cycles-per-second) electromagnetic radiation is a coveted asset in the world of high technology.


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