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Discovery & Development Analytical Science, Formulation

The Color of Chirality

How can a guitar be distinguished from a violin? The physical characteristics of the two instruments are, of course, very different. But what truly separates the two is the difference that can be heard between them. If the same note is played on these instruments they will sound different because each instrument, in addition to the note played, plays a series of tiny notes called harmonics.

Forty years ago, David Andrews, Professor of Chemistry at the University of East Anglia, theorized that chiral molecules (molecules which are nonsuperimposable on their mirror images) produced their own harmonics as they scatter light. But instead of relating to sound, these harmonics related to color. Andrews believed that the color changes observed in the scattered light would help distinguish which way a molecule twisted.

Though the theory had a logical basis, it remained unproven. Scientists had attempted to prove the theory using natural molecules but the sought after optical properties of chiral structures couldn’t be observed. Now, however, Ventsislav Valev, Professor in the Department of Physics at the University of Bath, UK, and his colleagues have demonstrated that the physical effect does exist (1).

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  1. V. K. Valev et al., “First observation of optical activity in hyper-Rayleigh scattering”, Phys. Rev. X 9, 011024 (2019).

About the Author

Maryam Mahdi

Assistant Editor

After finishing my degree, I envisioned a career in science communications. However, life took an unexpected turn and I ended up teaching abroad. Though the experience was amazing and I learned a great deal from it, I jumped at the opportunity to work for Texere. I'm excited to see where this new journey takes me!

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