major breakthrough in the use of molecules as information
processors is to be announced at this year's BA Festival
of Science in Dublin.
Nanotechnology experts are exploring the capabilities
of molecules that act like conventional computers
but can operate in tiny places where no silicon-based
chip or semiconductor can go. Now, for the first
time, they have used these molecules to perform logic
operations and process information in spaces a few
advance has been achieved by chemists at Queen's
University Belfast, with funding from the Engineering
and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC).
Professor Amilra de Silva, Chair of Organic Chemistry
at the university, says: “Computing isn't just
confined to semiconductors. Molecules have been
processing information ever since life has been
around on our planet. Harnessing this remarkable
ability really does have the potential to make
a big difference to people's lives.”
Molecular information processors placed in nano-spaces
can gather, process and supply valuable data on how
chemistry and biology function at this tiny scale.
Molecules can also be used as information processors
in medical and other applications. Portable blood
gas analysers incorporating early breakthroughs in
this field are already in use, with total sales of
relevant sensor components already reaching US$35
the right chemical inputs (e.g. sodium or potassium
ions) and ultra-violet, blue, green or red light
are applied, the artificial molecules used by the
team respond by emitting light. This ‘signal' can
be analysed using a fluorescence spectrometer or
even the eye to provide data about the molecule's
environment. Different types of these information
processors respond to different chemical inputs and
different colours of light.
underlying principle is based on photosynthesis – the
process whereby plants use sunlight to produce food
for themselves and for us – and is known as photo-induced
electron transfer (PET). In PET, light causes electrons
to move from one place to another. The speed of this
process can be controlled by chemical means.
The Queen's University Belfast team is now focusing
on improving the complexity of the logic operations
that can be performed. Professor de Silva will be
discussing the team's work and illustrating current
capabilities at the BA Festival on 7 th September.
involves manipulating materials on a very small
scale to build microscopic machines. The prefix ‘nano' in ‘nanotechnology'
means one thousand-millionth (10 -9 ). A nanometre,
for example, is one thousand-millionth of a metre.
Professor de Silva's team primarily works with artificial,
man-made molecules. This is easier than working with
the much more sophisticated natural molecules which
perform information processing tasks in living organisms
(e.g. running intracellular reaction pathways) that
help keep such organisms alive. All the molecules
used are of the type that has a fluorescent section
(i.e. they emit light when excited by another, higher-energy
form of light).
semiconductor or ‘chip' is a material such
as silicon that conducts electricity, although
not as well as copper, aluminium and other metals.
They play a key role in computers, mobile phones
and many other products.
This year's BA (British Association for the Advancement
of Science) Festival of Science takes place in Dublin
from 3 rd -10 th September. The event is one of the
UK's biggest science festivals and attracts around
400 of the best scientists and science communicators
from home and abroad who reveal the latest developments
in research to a general audience. For more information
visit www.the-ba.net .
Amilra de Silva will be talking about “Luminescent
Molecules as Information Processors” from 10.00 to
12.00 on 7 th September at Joly LT, Hamilton Building.
Professor de Silva will also be taking part in a
press conference at 09.00 on 7 th September where
he will be discussing his work. Professor David Leigh
of Edinburgh University, with whom Professor de Silva
has worked extensively in the past, will be talking
about “Tooling Up for the Nanoworld: The Magic of
Molecular Machines” on the same day and will also
be taking part in the same press conference.
Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council
(EPSRC) is the UK's main agency for funding research
in engineering and the physical sciences. The EPSRC
invests more than £500 million a year in research
and postgraduate training, to help the nation handle
the next generation of technological change. The
areas covered range from information technology to
structural engineering, and mathematics to materials
science. This research forms the basis for future
economic development in the UK and improvements for
everyone's health, lifestyle and culture. EPSRC also
actively promotes public awareness of science and
engineering. EPSRC works alongside other Research
Councils with responsibility for other areas of research.
The Research Councils work collectively on issues
of common concern via Research Councils UK. Website
address for more information on EPSRC: www.epsrc.ac.uk/
For more information, contact:
Professor Amilra de Silva, Queen's University Belfast,
tel: 028 9097 4422, e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
Jane Reck , EPSRC Press Officer, tel: 01793 444312,
Craig Brierley, Press Officer, British Association
for the Advancement of Science, tel: 020 7019 4947,