Thursday, December 11, 2008

"Impossible" Chain Reaction Started by Pitt Researchers

University of Pittsburgh researchers working with the National Energy Technology Laboratory (NETL) have been able to do something no other scientists have been able to do, create a chain reaction on a solid surface. Chain reactions in gasses and liquids happen all the time but it has long been thought that a reaction cannot happen on a surface because the energy needed to keep the reaction alive is absorbed into the surface. In this case the researchers lined up a series of sulfur-based molecules, hit one with a single electron and started a chain reaction that made ten jumps down the line. Researcher Kenneth Jordan says this could potentially be used as a new way to store information in a very small space, help to miniaturize the computer industry and make a big impact on nanotechnology research. He says the electron does not travel down the line of molecules. He says, instead, it looks like the change in the first molecule forces the one next to it to change and so on down the line. He says right now, two major questions need to be answered are. Why did the chain reaction stop and what other compounds may react the same way as the one used in this project. He says researchers at Pitt and, now that the information has been published, at other institutions will undoubtedly be looking into those questions. The study was published in the December 12th edition of Science.

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