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An unexpected discovery in Professor Arthur Suits' chemistry lab could have implications for manufacturing more efficient solar cells and improving photodynamic therapies for treating cancer, and it may contribute to research into quantum computing. At the heart of the discovery is the spin of electrons. Molecules are either nonmagnetic or magnetic depending on whether two electrons are paired with opposite spins or unpaired with same spins. Molecules can switch from magnetic to nonmagnetic forms or vice versa in a process called flipping a spin, but Suits says that process is inefficient and happens slowly.
"It is well known that if a nonmagnetic molecule absorbs light, often it makes a switch to the magnetic form, and that form will live for a long time and slowly give off light," he says. "It's also known that in a chemical reaction, you can start with magnetic forms, and when they react they become nonmagnetic. But it is an inefficient process that does not happen easily, and generally happens rarely in chemical reactions."
Team - Flips - Forms - Course - Reaction
What Suits and his team found is that spin flips between magnetic and nonmagnetic forms can happen very efficiently in the course of a chemical reaction as the products separate after reaction if they are two "radicals"—molecules with at least one unpaired electron each.
"To show this, we conducted a scattering experiment in which two molecular beams of reactants, one atomic oxygen and the other alkylamines, are crossed inside a vacuum chamber to form products detected with a laser," Suits says. "When these come together, they form an intermediate molecule that lives a long...
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