Information can be encoded into a variety of modes, whether it’s the length beep of morse codes, braille bulges, or computer 1 and 0. Now, researchers have shown proof of concept for coding information into artificial molecules that enables new programmable materials or new computers. The key ingredient is a material called a metal-organic frame (MOFs), a mesh-like structure made up of clusters of metal ions connected to organic ligands that are often used as experimental “sponges” to remove pollutants from air and water.
In the new study, researchers at the University of California, Berkeley, and the University of Ruhr, Bochum (RUB), set out to program them. Most MOFs are made of only one metal at a time, and the new idea is to encode information in a specific pattern and combination of different metal ions, which may be read and written by specially designed devices, which is the basic principle of computers reading and writing information in 1 and 0 units.
In this case, the team used a special material called MOF-74, which is arranged in oxidation rods and connected into honeycomb-shaped lattices. The researchers used metal ions such as cobalt, cadmium, lead and manganese as “bits” of the data and used an imaging technique called Atomic Probe Tomography (APT) to read back the information.
The team successfully demonstrated that the technology is technically feasible. With further tweaking, this method can be used to make a range of programmable molecules and materials, performing a variety of actions in turn. For example, the team says MOF can introduce drugs into the body at different speeds and break it down when it is no longer needed. One day, they can also capture carbon dioxide from the air and turn it into useful chemicals.
The study was published in the journal Science.