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Milestone: A methane-metal marriage
Date:12/23/2010

For the first time, chemists have succeeded in plugging a metal atom into a methane gas molecule, thereby creating a new compound that could be a key in opening up new production processes for the chemical industry, especially for the synthesis of organic compounds, which in turn might have implications for drug development.

The UA research group also is the first to determine the precise structure of this "metal-methane hybrid" molecule, predicted by theoretical calculations but until now never observed in the real world.

The discovery is published in the Journal of the American Chemical Society and was selected for a news spotlight in Chemical and Engineering News magazine, the weekly publication of the American Chemical Society, because of its significance.

In the chemistry world, seemingly simple actions can have big implications. For example, squeezing zinc atoms into methane gas molecules. This so-called metal-methane insertion is neither a complicated chemical reaction nor something that is likely to happen in nature, but it's very hard to do in the lab. What is even harder is figuring out what the resulting molecule looks like. But chemists like to tinker with things. And the chemical industry likes to tinker with things even more, especially when that tinkering could lead to useful products.

"There is a big push in the chemical industry and in chemistry in general, to make use of fairly common organic compounds such as methane and turn them into something that can serve as a source for a product," said Lucy Ziurys, who led the research effort. "For example, a plastic or a polymer, something that is more useful than just taking the methane and burning it."

"Our finding could make industrial applications easier, cheaper, quicker, and they could start with this simple compound, methane. They could convert it to all kinds of more complex and more valuable products."

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Contact: Daniel Stolte
stolte@email.arizona.edu
520-626-4402
University of Arizona
Source:Eurekalert  

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