University of Queensland scientists have solved a problem that has frustrated chemists and physicists for years, potentially leading to a new era of powerful, efficient and environmentally friendly technologies.
Using quantum mechanics, Professor Ben Powell of UQ’s School of Mathematics and Physics has discovered a “recipe” that allows molecular switches to operate at room temperature.
“Switches are materials that can toggle between two or more states, such as on and off or 0 and 1, and are the basis of all digital technologies,” Professor Powell said.
“This discovery paves the way for smaller, more powerful and energy-efficient technologies.
“You can expect batteries to last longer and computers to run faster.”
Until now, molecular switching was only possible when molecules were extremely cold, at temperatures below minus 250 degrees centigrade.
“Technically, it’s a big deal,” Professor Powell said.
“By following this detailed ‘recipe’, chemists should be able to operate molecular switches at room temperature.
“This will open the door to a host of technological advances, such as improved MRI scans that could lead to earlier detection of diseases like cancer.
“These materials can also be used for sensors, carbon capture and storage, hydrogen fuel cells, and as actuators, which can turn electricity into motion, which would be useful for robots.
“All of these applications require materials that can be switched at room temperature or above, which is why our discovery is so important.
“The use of these materials will also reduce the burden on the environment as the energy consumption of computers will be reduced, which will help in the fight against climate change.”
UQ researchers will collaborate with chemists from the University of Sydney and the University of New South Wales, to make new materials to test the new ‘recipe’.
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