Rewriting Life

Nanofibers Perform Attoscale Chemistry

The chemical reactors allow experiments to be performed using just thousands of molecules.

Mar 10, 2009
This illustration shows how the polymer nanofibers perform a reaction. The fibers are 200 nanometers in diameter and do not normally react with one another. However, when the fibers are exposed to a flash of heat (shown bottom), the polymers melt together, causing the formation of an “attoreactor,” where the two reactants meet each other.
These microscope images show the same reaction chamber at different levels of magnification. The central image, taken with a fluorescence microscope, shows that about 1,000 molecules are reacting, causing the release of fluorescent light in a starlike point. The images to the left and right were taken with a light microscope.
A random mat of nanofibers glows brightly at junctures where a dye molecule reacts with its target. The image was created by combining a fluorescence image with a white-light image.
A high-density, rectangular network of nanofibers is shown in the image above. The attoreactors are visible in fluorescent blue.
Pavel Anzenbacher, a chemist at Bowling Green State University, in Ohio, says that he was inspired to develop the attoreactor by one of his favorite painters, Piet Mondrian. Mondrian is famous for gridlike paintings such as this one, Composition with Yellow, Blue, and Red, from 1921, which hangs in London’s Tate Gallery.