Tracking Chiral Surface Development

Feb. 18, 2003

Chiral surface processes and reactions show tremendous potential for separations if they can be made an industrial reality. Research into the fundamentals is gaining worldwide interest. Moreover, the Internet is a readily available source for definitions, explanations, research activities and ideas about industrial applications.

Chiral surface research has been going on for some time. A 1997 news release from Sandia R&D Geosciences ( describes designed molecular recognition materials for chiral sensors, separations and catalytic materials using computer molecular modeling methods. A 2000 news release from The Dow Chemical Co. in conjunction with the Center for Applied Catalysis at Seton Hall University describes efforts to speed screening of revolutionary chiral catalysts. It is accessible at

A review of some relatively unfamiliar words such as chiral, enantiomer, enantiospecific and stereoselective could be helpful. A dictionary such as Merriam-Webster Online ( or one available through iTools ( might be used for words such as chiral and enantiomer. The other words present more of a challenge, but a metasearch site such as kartoo ( will link appropriate Internet resources. A good explanation of chirality in organic chemistry can be found at the University of Newcastle in Australia site at An explanation of chiral surfaces is located at the Materials Research Science and Engineering Center (MRSEC) of Carnegie Mellon University (

An article by C&EN Chicago's Mitch Jacoby about two-dimensional steroselectivity ( brings the complexities involved with chiral surface separations and catalysts into focus. Jacoby highlights a number of research teams and individual researchers and identifies specific areas of research. Links to some Web sites and publications are included. At the end of the article, Jacoby notes that enantioselective heterogeneous catalysis plays no role in industrial processes currently. An open challenge remains for some good surface-science characterization to provide clues about how to begin tuning the catalysts.

The National Science Foundation supports funding of shared experimental facilities of the Materials Research Science and Engineering Centers (MRSEC) ( These facilities offer experimental capabilities such as orientation imaging microscopy, various aspects of electron microscopy, surface preparation/characterization and spectroscopy ," all important to chiral surface research.

Many surface science research centers are located throughout the world and include those listed at the High Resolution Electron Microscopy (HREM) and Surface Structure Facility at Northwestern University site ( Others sites offering links to various research centers include "Canadian Surface Science Links" ( and the "U.K. Surface Science Links" page ( from Prof. Rasmita Raval's Group at the Surface Science Research Centre at the University of Liverpool.

Chemical catalysis plays a big role in chemical and biochemical reactions, especially as it relates to enzymes. The lecture notes from the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry at the University of California, Santa Cruz ( provide a good resource for the study or review of catalysis. The chemistry courses are archived as far back as 1996, including textbook references and additional Internet links. The lecture by Prof. Tony Fink on catalytic antibodies ( adds the "designer catalyst" label to antibodies that exhibit catalytic activity and explains the mechanisms involved.

In polymerization, designer catalysts can facilitate the production of products without the creation of polluting byproducts. A link from Norfolk State University's Materials Science & Technology (MST) pages (, sponsored by NASA's Langley Research Center, references polymers and crystalline structures. The MST page includes links to topics such as nanotechnology, molecular nanotechnology and molecular manufacturing. MST hot links for more information cover topics such as ceramics, composites, manufacturing, metals, plastics and polymers.

Searching for specific chiral compounds or catalysts? The Sigma Aldrich Web site includes chiral compounds in its "Drug Discovery" area of interest section, A literature section also is provided on "Grubbs' Catalysts & MacMillan's OrganoCatalysts" Web page at

Hodel is

Chemical Processing's Internet columnist. Contact him at [email protected].