Chemists Tie Tiniest Record-Holding Knot

I don’t remember exactly when I learned how to tie a square knot but I will never forget how to do it: right over left then left over right. It’s one of those strange lessons that will never get dumped out of my memory bank.

Speaking of strange and knots, chemists at the University of Manchester, U.K., bested an obscure world record and built a knot from a strand of atoms that curls around in a triple loop and crosses itself eight times. Made from 192 atoms linked in a chain, the knot is only two millionths of a millimeter wide – around 200,000 times thinner than a human hair.

According to an article in The Guardian, learning how to weave with strands of atoms, scientists hope to make possible a whole new world of materials.

“We know how revolutionary knotting and weaving were for people in the stone age. It had an impact on clothing, tools, fishing nets and so on. Maybe we’ll see just as great advantages from being able to do this with molecular strands,” says David Leigh, a professor of chemistry at the University of Manchester.

Leigh says that he and his team use a chemical process called self assembly, where they mix the organic building blocks with ions that the building blocks then wrap around to make crossing points in the right places.

You can read The Guardian article here. And here is a very brief video simulation of the knot.


Traci-bio-photo.jpgTraci Purdum is Chemical Processing’s senior digital editor. In addition to her knot-tying mnemonic she is also a fan of “lefty-loosey, righty-tighty” when screwdrivers are involved. You can email her at tpurdum@putman.net.