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‘Butterfly Molecule’ System Could Bring New Sensors, More

TALLAHASSEE, Fla., Aug. 29, 2014 — A molecular system could convert photon energy directly to mechanical motions, emit white light and even take your temperature.

The system, developed by Florida State University researchers, is based on a molecule that was previously created by Biwu Ma, an associate professor in the Florida A&M University/FSU Department of Chemical and Biomedical Engineering.

The molecule, a butterfly-like phosphorescent platinum(II) binuclear complex, can undergo a structural change that with photoexcitation can lead to the formation of two different excited states, as well as dual emission in a steady state.

Both blue and red light are simultaneously emitted in certain environments. This dual emission in turn creates white light from a single molecule. The photoinduced molecular-structure change essentially has a strong dependence on the molecule’s surrounding environment, “allowing its application as a self-referenced luminescent sensor for solid-liquid phase change, viscosity and temperature,” the researchers wrote in the study.

Potential applications for the system vary widely. It is extremely sensitive to temperature and registers change by emission color, which allows it to be used as a thermometer. The researchers are working to develop a noninvasive thermometer that could be used on infants, as well as nanothermometers for intracellular temperature mapping in biological systems and molecular machines that are operated by sunlight.

“This work is about basic, fundamental science, but also about how we can use these unique findings in our everyday lives,” Ma said.

The research was published in Angewandte Chemie (doi: 10.1002/anie.201405293).

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