Posted on behalf of Philip Ball.
Everyone in the United Kingdom wants a slice of Olympic pie, and you can hardly blame chemists for getting in on the act. At the University of Warwick, a team led by Anish Mistry and David Fox has forged a synthetic route to the five-ring polyaromatic hydrocarbon dubbed olympicene, which can be regarded as a little fragment of graphene. They have teamed up with researchers at IBM’s research laboratory in Zurich to take a snapshot of this molecule with atomic resolution — a direct confirmation that its name is warranted. Seeing this degree of detail in a molecular structure has only recently become possible thanks to advances in atomic-force microscopy: conventional imaging with a scanning tunnelling microscope would provide only a blurry view of the molecule’s trapezoidal shape, without the visible ring structure.
Is it good for anything, besides illustrating that chemists can have fun? The Warwick researchers say that olympicene’s electronic and optical properties might confer applications in solar cells and light-emitting diodes. Purists might feel that the Olympic symbol is better represented by the five interlocking rings of the so-called catenane named olympiadane, synthesized a full 18 years ago by a team up the road from Warwick at the University of Birmingham. But despite its more accurate topology, the three-dimensional crystal structure of that complex beast doesn’t match the Olympic symbol quite as well.