Foresight members have long been interested in physical/mechanical control of the positions and reactivity of molecules, as a pathway to advanced molecular nanotechnology and atomically-precise contruction of large products. This connection is described on Wikipedia in the mechanochemistry entry. Now at team at University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign led by chemistry prof Jeffrey Moore has taken the next step:
The inventors of self-healing plastic have come up with another invention: a new way of doing chemistry.
Researchers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign have found a novel way to manipulate matter and drive chemical reactions along a desired direction. The new technique utilizes mechanical force to alter the course of chemical reactions and yield products not obtainable through conventional conditions.
Potential applications include materials that more readily repair themselves, or clearly indicate when they have been damaged.
“This is a fundamentally new way of doing chemistry,” said Jeffrey Moore, a William H. and Janet Lycan Professor of Chemistry at Illinois and corresponding author of a paper that describes the technique in the March 22 issue of the journal Nature…[Editor's summary, first paragraph, and three videos]
“We created a situation where a chemical reaction could go down one of two pathways,” Moore said. “By applying force to the mechanophore, we could bias which of those pathways the reaction chose to follow.”
One potential application of the technique is as a trigger to divert mechanical energy stored in stressed polymers into chemical pathways such as self-healing reactions.
A longer-term application is described on Wikipedia:
Much of the excitement regarding mechanochemistry regards its potential use in automated assembly of molecular-scale devices. Such techniques appear to have many applications in medicine, aviation, resource extraction, manufacturing and warfare.
Yes—many applications. (Credit: Brian Wang’s Advanced Nanotechnology blog, via Alex.) —Christine