Science News

3D Molecular Printer Creates Small Molecules From Scratch

HHMI 3D Small Molecule Printer

Chemists at the University of Illinois have created a new machine which is capable of making molecules; essentially, a molecular 3D printer which assembles complex small molecules in an automated fashion.

The study’s lead chemist, chemistry professor and medical doctor Martin D. Burke, was quoted in a EurekAlert release as having said that the team of chemists “wanted to take a very complex process, chemical synthesis, and make it simple” and it would seem as if they’ve managed to just that, as their new 3D molecule printer creates molecules with the click of a mouse.

We wanted to take a very complex process, chemical synthesis, and make it simple […] Simplicity enables automation, which, in turn, can broadly enable discovery and bring the substantial power of making molecules to nonspecialists.

The research, which was featured on the cover of the March 13 issue of Science, allows for the production of small molecules, which are notoriously difficult to create in a laboratory environment.

Dr. Burke, a Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI) Early Career Scientist, indicated that the bottleneck up until now has been attributed to “synthesis,” as it usually takes highly trained chemists years to figure out how to make each molecule.

Up to now, the bottleneck has been synthesis […] There are many areas where progress is being slowed, and many molecules that pharmaceutical companies aren’t even working on, because the barrier to synthesis is so high

The prototype created by Burke and his team is currently limited in the number of chemicals it’s capable of producing, however, Popular Mechanics reports that he believes it already has application in the development of new drugs.

Small molecules are, by definition, compact chemical structures found throughout nature. They find use in LEDs and solar cells.

Burke’s machine simplifies the process of synthesizing chemicals into a series of steps. In each step, the machine connects a building block, induces a chemical reaction and then washes away the reaction’s byproducts. The building blocks snap together like a LEGO pieces which allows the chemicals to mix and for a reaction to take place.

The machine’s creators at HHMI demonstrated its ability to create thousands of different chemicals across 14 distinct classes of small molecules.

In other recent scientific breakthroughs covered here on Immortal News, scientists in Japan have managed to successfully transmit wireless electric power 55 meters away and engineers at UC Berkeley have created a synthetic chameleon-like film which changes colors on demand.

What are your thoughts on this new molecule-making machine?

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