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Many physical and chemical processes necessary for biology and chemistry occur at the interface of water and solid surfaces. Researchers at Los Alamos National Laboratory publishing in Nature Nanotechnology have now shown that semiconducting carbon nanotubes — light emitting cylinders of pure carbon — have the potential to detect and track single molecules in water.
Using high-speed microscopic imaging, they found that nanotubes could both detect and track the motion of individual molecules as they bombard the surface at the water interface.
Traditional techniques to investigate molecules on surfaces cannot be used in water because the study requires low-pressure atmospheres such as one finds in space.
The team is hopeful that its work will lead to practical, nanotube-based, single-molecule detectors in aqueous biological and chemical environments.
Molecular motion and attachment to surfaces is important for driving chemistry that ranges from the production of ammonia on metal to the enzymatic oxidation of glucose. The attachment takes place through sporadic motion followed by a collision with the surface to which the molecule sticks. Molecules can then move along the surface where they can collide with other molecules and undergo chemical reactions.
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