Mingling Art with Science

Date & time

4–5pm 14 October 2013


RSC Lecture Theatre


Sir Professor Fraser Stoddart


 Gavin Perri

It was Marcellin Berthelot (1827-1907) who, in 1860, stated, “Chemistry creates its object.” He continued,“This creative capability, resembling that of art itself, distinguishes it essentially from the natural and historical sciences.” As one of Berthelot’s most fervent disciples these past 45 years, I have been a sculptor of matter at the ultimate of size levels that equates with being a chemist – namely, the molecular level. I have faced formidable challenges, yet derived no end of pleasure from designing and synthesizing molecular compounds of a somewhat bizarre kind. These exotic compounds contain, in addition to the classical chemical bonds, a mechanical bond. My presentation will draw attention to how art in its many different guises has fashioned my chemistry in its numerous diverse shapes and forms over the years. An example is the realization of the Borromean Link in a wholly synthetic molecular form. The selfassembly of this link, which is topologically achiral, from 18 components by the template-directed formation of 12 imine and 30 dative bonds, associated with the coordination of three interlocked macrocycles, each tetranucleating and decadentate overall, to a total of six zinc(II) ions, is near quantitative. Three macrocycles present diagonally in pairs, six exo-bidentate bipyridyl and six endodiiminopyridyl ligands to the six zinc(II) ions. The use, in concert, of coordination, supramolecular, and dynamic covalent chemistry leads to the highly efficient construction, by multiple cooperative selfassembly processes, of a nanoscale dodecacation with an approximate diameter of 2.5 nanometers and an inner chamber of volume 250 cubic Ångstroms, lined with 12 oxygen atoms. Taking advantage of the ability to preorganize six metal ions spatially and symmetrically, other metals with interesting redox properties were used to construct more so-called Borromeates. Additionally, conditions were used in which metals were mixed and led, quite unexpectedly, to the formation of another topological entity, known as King Solomon’s Link. Mechanically interlocked objects are ubiquitous in our world. They can be spotted on almost every scale of matter and in virtually every sector of society, spanning cultural, temporal, and physical boundaries the world over. From art to machinery, to biological entities and chemical compounds, mechanical interlocking is being used and admired every day, inspiring creativity and ingenuity in art and technology alike. The tiny world of mechanically interlocked molecules (MIMs), which has been established and cultivated over the past few decades, has connected the ordinary and molecular worlds symbolically with creative research and artwork that subsumes the molecular world as a miniaturization of the ordinary one. In this public lecture, I will highlight how graphical representations of MIMs have evolved to this end, and discuss various other aspects of their beauty as chemists see them today. I will argue that the many aspects of beauty in MIMs are relevant, not only to the pleasure chemists derive from their research, but also to the progress of the research itself — and, on a higher plane, in helping to define chemistry’s place in today’s world, as an expression of beauty on the one hand and an instrument for change in ensuring a rosy future for humankind on the other hand.
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