A new method allows the physical state of atoms or molecules within a network to be controlled. Researchers from the University of Basel have discovered that the method allows the physical state of just a few atoms or molecules to be controlled.

Data storage devices controlling molecules within a network copy

The spontaneous self-organisation of molecules into extensive networks with pores about one nanometer in size. The research, which could be of particular importance for the development of new data storage devices.

In principle, a phase change of individual atoms or molecules can be used to store data. Storage devices of this kind already exist in research, however, they are very labour-intensive and expensive to manufacture.

The group led by Professor Thomas Jung at the University of Basel is working to produce  storage units consisting of only a few atoms using the process of self-organisation to simply thereby enormously simplifying the production process.

Initially the group produced organometallic network that looks like a sieve with precisely defined holes. Under the right connections and conditions, the molecules arrange themselves independently into a regular supramolecular structure.

The physicist and lead author, Aisha Ahsan, of the study has now added individual Xenon gas atoms to the holes. She was successful in switching the physical state of the Xenon atoms between solid and liquid and causing the phase change in all holes at the same time by temperature.

Because these experiments have to be conducted at extremely low temperatures of just a few Kelvin (below -260°C), Xenon atoms cannot be used to create new data storage devices. However, the experiments show that supramolecular networks are suited in principle for the production of tiny structures in which phase changes can be induced using a small number of atoms or molecules.

Professor Thomas Jung, the supervisor of the research, said: “We will now test larger molecules as well as short-chain alcohols. These change state at higher temperatures, which means that it may be possible to make use of them.”