Researcher Proves Rules of Chemistry Can Be Broken

I like to fancy myself a rebel. It's not all bad. In the ninth grade my biology teacher told me I'd never be an "A" student. I thumbed my nose at him and the rest of the year I aced his class.

Tell Artem R. Oganov something is impossible and he also will prove you wrong. The professor of theoretical crystallography in the Department of Geosciences at Stony Brook University in Stony Brook, N.Y., basically showed that chemistry textbooks are incorrect.

"When a chemistry textbook says that a certain compound is impossible, what does it really mean, impossible?" asks Oganov in a press release on the university's website. "Because I can, on the computer, place atoms in certain positions and in certain proportions. Then I can compute the energy. ‘Impossible’ really means that the energy is going to be high. So how high is it going to be? And is there any way to bring that energy down, and make these compounds stable?”

Artem OganovOganov set out for the answer and penned a paper "Unexpected stable stoichiometries of sodium chlorides.” The research documents his predictions about, and experiments in, compressing sodium chloride—rock salt—to form new compounds. These compounds validate his methodology for predicting the properties of objects—a methodology now used worldwide for computational material discovery—and hold the promise of novel materials and applications.

“I think this work is the beginning of a revolution in chemistry,” Oganov says. “We found, at low pressures achievable in the lab, perfectly stable compounds that contradict the classical rules of chemistry. If you apply the rather modest pressure of 200,000 atmospheres—for comparison purposes, the pressure at the center of the earth is 3.6 million atmospheres—everything we know from chemistry textbooks falls apart.”

To Oganov, impossible didn’t mean something absolute. “The rules of chemistry are not like mathematical theorems, which cannot be broken,” he says. “The rules of chemistry can be broken, because impossible only means ‘softly’ impossible! You just need to find conditions where these rules no longer hold.”

You go, Oganov. If only you'd been around when I was lagging in high school chemistry, maybe I would have been inspired by your rebel ways and scored higher marks.

Traci-bio-photo.jpgTraci Purdum,
Senior Digital Editor and fan of proving people wrong – but not in an obnoxious way.