‘Smashing’ Buckyballs With Light Makes A Whole New Crystal

For the first time, X-ray light has effectively created a new type of crystal phase for crystals called buckyballs, according to a new study.

AsianScientist (Sep. 16, 2016) – An international team has discovered how to create a new type of crystal using light more than ten billion times brighter than the sun. The work was published in Science Advances.

Light from the X-ray free electron laser (XFEL) is around one billion times brighter than light generated by any other X-ray equipment. Because other X-ray sources deliver their energy much more slowly than the XFEL, all previous observations had found that the X-rays randomly melt or destroy the crystal. Scientists had previously assumed that XFELs would do the same.

The team, led by Associate Professor Brian Abbey at La Trobe in collaboration with Associate Professor Harry Quiney at the University of Melbourne in Australia, exposed a sample of crystals, known as buckminsterfullerene or buckyballs, to intense light from XFEL. The molecules have a spherical shape forming a pattern that resembles panels on a soccer ball.

Surprisingly, when the XFEL intensity was cranked up past a critical point, the electrons in the buckyballs spontaneously re-arranged their positions, changing from being shaped like a soccer ball to being shaped like an Australian Football League ball. It also altered the sample’s optical and physical properties.

“It was like smashing a walnut with a sledgehammer and instead of destroying it and shattering it into a million pieces, we instead created a different shape—an almond!” Abbey said.

According to Abbey, the results give the hundred-year-old science of crystallography a new, exciting direction. Currently, crystallography is the tool used by biologists and immunologists to probe the inner workings of proteins and molecules. Being able to see these structures in new ways will help us to understand interactions in the human body and may open new avenues for drug development, he said.

The article can be found at: Abbey et al. (2016) X-ray Laser-induced Electron Dynamics Observed by Femtosecond Diffraction from Nanocrystals of Buckminsterfullerene.


Source: University of Melbourne; Photo: Pixabay.
Disclaimer: This article does not necessarily reflect the views of AsianScientist or its staff.

Asian Scientist Magazine is an award-winning science and technology magazine that highlights R&D news stories from Asia to a global audience. The magazine is published by Singapore-headquartered Wildtype Media Group.

Related Stories from Asian Scientist