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Tim Kelleher


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Better drug design through solvent scrutiny?

Researchers have been able to watch a chemical reaction happening in solution with more detail than ever before, according to a report recently published online in Science.1

The results could provide scientists with new insight into how liquid solvents affect chemical reactions at the molecular level, which may lead to improved manufacture of drug molecules for medical therapies, the researchers claim.

Lead author Professor Andrew Orr-Ewing, University of Bristol School of Chemistry, said; “Liquids have a disordered and rapidly changing structure, and collisions between molecules occur on timescales as fast as ten thousand billion collisions per second. It is now possible for us to examine chemical reactions within a solvent at unprecedented levels of detail on picosecond timescales (one thousand-billionths of a second)”.

The experiments took place at the Lasers for Science Facility (LSF) at the Science and Technology Facilities Council’s (STFC) Rutherford Appleton Laboratory in Oxfordshire. The results were made possible by the STFC’s ULTRA system, which provides ultrashort laser light pulses (each less than ten million millionths of a second long) of many colours that activate chemical reactions and then takes “snapshots” of the chemical reaction.

The system’s cameras take 10,000 images per second, each giving a “molecular fingerprint” unique to each type of molecule in the chemical mix. These vibrational spectra (both infrared and Raman) not only give information on the changes in structure of the molecules but also show how fast and how efficiently these changes are happening.


  1. Greaves SJ, Rose RA, Oliver TAA et al. Vibrationally Quantum-State–Specific Reaction Dynamics of H Atom Abstraction by CN Radical in Solution. Science 2011;DOI:10.1126/science.1197796

Published on: March 3, 2011

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