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Chemists from the UdG study as yet unimagined future applications of atomic clusters


Atomic clusters are potentially efficient catalysts for pharmaceuticals, for new materials or for developments in the electronics industry, in which increasing miniaturisation means smaller and smaller devices. Theoretical studies conducted by researchers from Girona, the Netherlands and Mexico have provided important information leading to advances in the design of new micro materials.

Atomic clusters represent an intermediate state between atoms and crystals. In fact, they exhibit characteristics of each of these extreme forms of matter, depending on their size and their molecular and electronic structures. Atomic clusters have the potential to be very efficient and specific catalysts, for use in drugs and in new materials with as yet unimagined properties.

The continued miniaturisation of electronic devices has fomented the push for nanometric and molecular scale clusters. For example, in the future silicon clusters may be very important for the development of the electronics industry, and other clusters may have relevant catalytic or magnetic properties.

A group of chemists from the University of Girona (UdG) has undertaken a very specific theoretical study of atomic clusters. The European Union, acting in its own interests, is funding this research, which will take place over a four-year period, with a budget of 90,000 euros. The project, known as CANIOC (Chemical Bonding and Aromaticity in Novel Inorganic and Organometallic Clusters), is headed by Dr Miquel Solà.

The project will be developed within the Molecular Modeling and Quantum Chemical Methodology research group. CANIOC is a collaborative project carried out together with the University of Guajanuto (Mexico) and the VU University Amsterdam (the Netherlands).

Unusually stable atoms
This team of researchers has recently studied different all-metal and semi-metal clusters. The unusual stability of these atomic clusters comes from their aromatic character. Indeed, aromaticity is an important property of these composites since it explains their stability and their reactivity.

Compared to classical aromatic organic molecules, which possess only ? delocalised electrons, the aromaticity in inorganic clusters is more complex. These composites have ?, ? and ? (or even ?) electron delocalisation, giving rise to what is known as multiple aromaticity. These all-metal and semi-metal aromatic clusters represent one of chemistry’s new frontiers (the first of such clusters was discovered in 2001).

How far do they want to go?
It is hoped expected that an understanding of the origin of aromaticity in these systems will help establish the factors that govern structural patterns and stability in solids. In addition, these new materials are expected to lead to interesting results, such as the production of nanodevices with intense non linear optical properties, high catalytic power and efficiency, or utility as possible drugs. Thus, their theoretical study may provide important information leading to advances in the design of new nanomaterials based on these types of systems.


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