Research NewsChemistry

Training Lasers to Be Chemists

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Science  20 Mar 1998:
Vol. 279, Issue 5358, pp. 1847-1848
DOI: 10.1126/science.279.5358.1847

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Chemical reactions often produce desired valuable compounds in only minute quantities, but the technique known as coherent control--coaxing molecules into reacting in specific ways by delivering precisely tuned, precisely timed laser pulses--could persuade such reactions to make much more of the product of choice. The hard part is finding out what sort of laser pulse to apply, and chemists are now having some success using computer-controlled feedback to find the best means of persuasion. The technique could be used in areas such as cancer therapy, where tailored light pulses would prompt optically active molecules to generate cell-killing reactive oxygen, and electronics manufacturing, where pulses would make precise changes in the molecular structure of the polymers used to create circuit patterns.