Chiral Isotropic Liquids from Achiral Molecules

Science  24 Jul 2009:
Vol. 325, Issue 5939, pp. 452-456
DOI: 10.1126/science.1170028

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Packing Bananas and Boomerangs

Assembling achiral molecules typically generates achiral domains. However, odd things can happen when the molecules are banana-or boomerang-shaped—their cores can twist out of plain to form left- or right-handed helices, which can then pack into chiral domains that will polarize light (see the Perspective by Amabilino). Hough et al. (p. 452) show that if you make the situation even more complex by frustrating the packing of adjacent layers, you can create a material that appears to be macroscopically isotropic with only very local positional and orientational ordering of the molecules but still shows an overall chirality. In a second paper, Hough et al. (p. 456) also show that if you change the chemistry of the molecules to allow for better overall packing, you can create a situation where helical filaments form that also tend to pack in layered structures. However, the frustration between the two types of packing leads to macroscopically chiral and mesoporous structures.


A variety of simple bent-core molecules exhibit smectic liquid crystal phases of planar fluid layers that are spontaneously both polar and chiral in the absence of crystalline order. We found that because of intralayer structural mismatch, such layers are also only marginally stable against spontaneous saddle splay deformation, which is incompatible with long-range order. This results in macroscopically isotropic fluids that possess only short-range orientational and positional order, in which the only macroscopically broken symmetry is chirality—even though the phases are formed from achiral molecules. Their conglomerate domains exhibit optical rotatory powers comparable to the highest ever found for isotropic fluids of chiral molecules.

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