Scientists have used an X-ray laser at the Department of Energy’s SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory to get the first glimpse of the transition state where two atoms begin to form a weak bond on the way to becoming a molecule.
This fundamental advance, reported Feb. 12 in Science Express and long thought impossible, will have a profound impact on the understanding of how chemical reactions take place and on efforts to design reactions that generate energy, create new products and fertilize crops more efficiently.
“This is the very core of all chemistry. It’s what we consider a Holy Grail, because it controls chemical reactivity,” said Anders Nilsson, a professor at the SLAC/Stanford SUNCAT Center for Interface Science and Catalysis and at Stockholm University who led the research. “But because so few molecules inhabit this transition state at any given moment, no one thought we’d ever be able to see it.”