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Chemists Just Tied the Tightest Knot of All Time

Jan 13, 2017 05:00 AM EST
Fly-around video of the structure of a molecular knot with eight crossings
Scientists at The University of Manchester have produced the most tightly knotted physical structure ever known – a scientific achievement which has the potential to create a new generation of advanced materials. (Screencap from University of Manchester Media Relations/YouTube)
(Photo : University of Manchester Media Relations/YouTube)

It may not sound so impressive, creating the tightest tiny knot in the history of the world, but it's a breakthrough that brings to light numerous possibilities of brand new materials.

According to a report from The Guardian, scientists from Manchester, United Kingdom built the microscopic circular triple helix using a strand of atoms that they twisted in a triple loop and crosses itself eight times. In this impressive feat, the team only used 192 atoms linked together in the strand and the knot only has a width ofapproximately two millionths of a millimeter. This is roughly 200,000 times thinner than a single strand of human hair.

More than the size of this new knot, the tightness - measured by the distance the rope cross each other - is impressive. The crossing points of this team's knot measures at just 24 atoms apart, described by University of Manchester professor David Leigh as "definitely the most tightly knotted physical structure known."

He added, ""These strands we are knotting are so small that you can't grab the ends and tie them like you would a shoelace. Instead we use a chemical process called self assembly, where we mix the organic building blocks with ions that the building blocks then wrap around to make crossing points in the right places."

Leigh designed and built the knot along with research associate Jonathan Danon and others, also counting the help of computers and pipe cleaners in conceptualizing the record-breaking knot. They're hoping their findings pave the way for a world of new materials in the physical world.

"We know how revolutionary knotting and weaving were for people in the stone age," Leigh pointed out. "It had an impact on clothing, tools, fishing nets and so on. Maybe we'll see just as great advantages from being able to do this with molecular strands."

The study is published in the journal Science.

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