MISSOULA – A chemistry doctoral student at the University of Montana recently helped develop a new type of molecule, and his work was the cover story for a top scientific journal.
Casey Massena of Santa Cruz, California, works in the UM lab of Assistant Professor Orion Berryman. Massena’s work was published in Angewandte Chemie International Edition, which has a global readership.
“I like building molecules because it’s a long and challenging process with exciting moments of inspiration,” Massena said. “Many of us in our lab have gone to bed thinking about molecules and woken up realizing we’d dreamt about them. As one of our collaborators in Germany describes it, what we do is the perfect balance between logic and art.”
Coil springs and handrails on spiral staircases are examples of helices. At the nanoscale, helical molecules are vital building blocks that give our bodies form and function – used to build important things like DNA or collagen.
Although nature has fashioned molecular helices for billions of years, chemists only have made synthetic versions within the past few decades. In particular, multi-strand anion helices, which involve multiple strands that wrap around negatively charged ions, are extremely rare. Using halogen bonding – electrostatic interactions that don’t involve the permanent sharing of electrons – Massena and co-workers became the first to wrap three separate strands around iodide, which is added to salt.
“This project is a small but important step toward one day developing large and dynamic molecular machines with the potential to treat diseases, serve as efficient electronic components or endow materials with rare properties,” Massena said.
“We feel very honored and excited about our contribution and the feedback we’ve received from the international community,” Berryman said. “Our Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry at UM is doing top-notch science.”