Here’s a new twist on nanotubes: chemists have found a set of organic molecules that spontaneously assemble themselves into a helical spiral with a hollow core1.
The tubes – a molecular match for fusilli pasta twists – were discovered by accident, admitted Jeremy Sanders of the University of Cambridge, UK.
His group were making modified naphthalenediimide molecules2, cooked up by microwave heating of simpler compounds. But these naphthalenediimide building blocks instantly joined together by weak hydrogen bonds, creating a polymer string that wrapped itself into a helical nanotube.
The direction that the helix twists is controlled by chiral amino acids, used in the synthesis of the building blocks.