Spinach switches

Ohio University nanoscientists have transformed a molecule of chlorophyll-a from spinach into a complex biological switch which has possible future applications for green energy, technology and medicine.

The research yielded the first detailed image of chlorophyll-a, the main chemical in the photosynthesis process. It shows how scientists can use new technology to manipulate the configuration of the spinach molecule in four different arrangements.

The scientists used a scanning tunnelling microscope to image chlorophyll-a and then injected it with a single electron to manipulate the molecule into four positions, ranging from straight to curved, at varying speeds. Though the Ohio University team and others have created two-step molecule switches using scanning tunnelling microscope manipulation in the past, the new experiment yields a more complex multi-step switch on the largest organic molecule to date.

The work has immediate implications for basic science research, as the configuration of molecules and proteins impacts biological functions. The study also suggests a novel route for creating nanoscale logic circuits or mechanical switches for future medical, computer technology or green energy applications.