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Molecular octopi learn sticky tricks.

Molecular octopi learn sticky tricks

Organic chemist Steven L. Regen has made a molecular octopus -- sporting long arms lined with suckers that grab onto "prey" -- and now he wants to train it to work for him. The body consists of six benzene rings that join to form a cylinder. The arms are polyether side chains, and the suckers are oxygen atoms that can bind to other substances.

When Regen and his colleagues at Lehigh University in Bethlehem, Pa., placed a layer of these molecules on water, the tiny octopi floated with their arms outspread. Knowing that side chains can sometimes be made to stick into water, the researchers then compressed this layer. As they shoved the molecules together, they discovered they could indeed force the octopi to tuck their arms temporarily under their bodies.

"We think of this as the octopus treading water at the air-water interface," says Regen.

He envisions "training" the octopi to separate ions from solutions. The sinking arms would encircle and latch onto the ions, so that octopi removed from the solution would bring the ions out with them. But first, Regen says, he needs to redesign his octopi to give their suckers enough strength to hold the ions securely as he moves them from one solution to another.
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Title Annotation:benzene molecule shaped like an octopus
Author:Pennisi, Elizabeth
Publication:Science News
Date:Apr 27, 1991
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