A Clearer (Chemical) Picture
How a niche high-resolution microscopy technique could power drug discovery and development
Maryam Mahdi | | Interview
Researchers using a combination of high-resolution scanning tunneling microscopy (HR-STM) and first-principles simulations have been able pinpoint the location of atoms and identify halogen bonding (1) – and they believe that such precision can be exploited as a tool in pharmaceutical drug development. Here, Giovanni Costantini, Professor of Physical Chemistry at the University of Warwick and one of the project’s lead researchers, describes the capabilities of HR-STM – and how it fits into pharma’s analytical toolbox.
What is STM?
STM is a wonderful experimental technique whose invention is often associated with the birth of nanoscience and nanotechnology. In fact, the 1986 Nobel Prize for Physics was partially awarded to Gerd Binnig and Heinrich Rohrer for their design of the scanning tunneling microscope, indicating how important the technique is for fundamental science. STM exploits the minute current that flows between a very sharp metallic tip and a surface when separated by a distance of about 1 nm or less (this is a quantum mechanical effect called quantum tunneling – from which the microscope derives its name). STM allows the location of molecules to be mapped at a resolution typically below 1 nanometer.
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