New discovery may be key to controlling chemical reactions

Wednesday, February 1, 2023

Unexpected resonance frequencies observed in reactions between two molecules

Alan Jamison
A new study published today in Nature is changing our understanding of chemical reactions and overturning previous theoretical models by finding an unexpected resonance frequency during the reaction of two molecules.

Resonance is when one object vibrating at the same natural frequency as a second object forces that second object into vibrational motion.

This ground-breaking finding is the first time a resonance has been observed between two ultracold molecules and is a stepping-stone for researchers to learn about and control the molecules that comprise our universe.

“Resonances occur when vibrations at a specific frequency get preferentially amplified. For example, when a piano string gets hit by the hammer, it vibrates at a specific frequency based on the length and thickness, creating a musical note unique to that string,” said Dr. Alan Jamison from the Institute for Quantum Computing (IQC) and the Department of Physics and Astronomy at the University of Waterloo. “Similar resonances occur in atoms, where very specific frequencies of energy create stronger than expected responses in the chemical systems.”

Previously predicted to be an impossibility, Jamison and his collaborators from the Massachusetts Institute for Technology (MIT) were able to observe resonant frequencies in a chemical reaction between two ultracold molecules. By cooling down sodium-lithium molecules to near-absolute zero temperatures, the team could control the reactions at a quantum level. Without such control, the unusual resonance would never have been noticed.

To learn more about their research, see the original story “New discovery may be key to controlling chemical reactions” on Waterloo News.