ACS – Movie stars


As is traditional for any editor from a Nature journal attending an ACS meeting, let me begin by telling you my own personal trauma in getting here – my plane didn’t have any water in the restrooms for washing your hands. Instead, the airline company improvised by putting out bottles of drinking water for us to use. But I’ll swear that, by the end of the journey, they were using sparkling water in some of the restrooms. Presumably if they’d got really stuck in first class, they’d have started using the champagne.

With that off my chest, let’s talk supramolecular chemistry and molecular motors. I attended a session this morning that showcased some of the younger movers and shakers from organic chemistry, and I especially enjoyed Adam Urbach’s talk, about designing supramolecular binding systems based on cucurbiturils (the name always makes me think of cucumbers, but that‘s probably a problem unique to me). Some cucurbiturils can trap two ‘guest’ compounds simultaneously, and so can be used to hold together appropriately designed molecular units attached on separate peptide chains. This makes it easy to set up two or three binding sites on one chain, which accept the same number of appropriately spaced binding units arranged on another chain. Such systems have previously been difficult to make. Rather neat, I thought.

In the same session, Jonathan Nitschke talked about systems in which a selection of amines, aldehydes and metals react to form a dynamic combinatorial mixture of self-assembling complexes, which eventually reach an equilibrium in which just a couple of products have formed. Nitschke has now reached the point where, for one of his systems at least, he can devise an algorithm that explains the outcome of the equilibrium. Impressive stuff, and I look forward to seeing where this line of research will go next.

But an oscar for cinematography must go to Ben Feringa, who in an afternoon session showed some mind-blowing footage of a dynamic surface rippling with waves, the result of chemical changes in the molecules that make up the surface. David Leigh competed with his movies of droplets of liquid oozing their way up an incline, in response to light-induced changes in the properties of the underlying surface. Amazing. And all the result of rotaxane chemistry.

Day one is over (so fast!) – here’s looking forward to tomorrow.


Andrew Mitchinson (Senior Editor, Nature)

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