Quick edit | Atomic vistas, up close

Quick edit | Atomic vistas, up close

Werner Heisenberg, Erwin Schrodinger and other pioneers of atomic physics could not have dreamt it. Imagine viewing a molecule up close, its chemical bonds and the silhouette of its atoms almost as if they could be felt.

Until the other day this would be called a dream. But now a team of scientists from IBM in Zurich have clicked a picture of a molecule called Pentacene, which has five hexagonal carbon rings fused together. They used some neat physics and a device called an atomic force microscope for the job.

Such discoveries are often treated as scientific curios and no more. But this promises to be different.

Consider the process of drug discovery, say, that of anti-cancer drugs. So far, scientists have a bag of molecules they can tinker with to create more powerful drugs, plus there are the hit-and-trial discoveries. The new process may make it possible to tinker with DNA from viruses and cancer cells just as one fixes things with tweezers. Today that sounds like fiction, tomorrow that is likely to be for real.