Controlling reactivity of a molecule using a gold electrode

A research team affiliated with several institutions in the Republic of Korea has demonstrated that it is possible to replace chemical functional groups with a gold electrode to control a molecule’s reactivity. 

In organic chemistry, functional groups are a specific grouping of atoms within a molecule that gives the compound certain physical and chemical properties. They undergo the same type of reaction irrespective of the compound they are part of; however, certain functional groups nearby can affect their reactivity. Some common examples of functional groups are amines, alcohols, carboxylic acids, ethers, and ketones. 

Functional groups play a crucial role in chemical synthesis. By tweaking them, chemists can speed up or slow down chemical reactions. However, developing reactions using functional groups to produce desired products has proven to be slow and arduous.

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Now the researchers have found a way to make this process easier. They attached the molecules to a gold electrode, and by controlling the amount of electricity, they can get more control over the reactions. The gold electrode acts as a “universal functional group” to inhibit or propel reactions depending on the amount of electricity.

A +ve voltage on the electrode decreased the electron density at the reaction site, and a -ve voltage increased the electron density. Like the functional groups, the single gold electrode behaves like multiple functional groups depending on the voltage.

Three experiments that the research team proved ‘electro-inductive effect’. Image: IBS
Image: IBS

By conducting hydrolysis and conversion experiments, the researchers demonstrated the benefits of their technique. According to researchers, this technique holds promise in other areas as well, and they plan to try with other materials for better scalability. The research is published in the journal Science. 

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