Turn the Molecule This Way for a Faster Reaction

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Science  04 Oct 2013:
Vol. 342, Issue 6154, pp. 46-47
DOI: 10.1126/science.1244833

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Observed under normal conditions, chemical reaction rates and the relative ratios of products formed are highly averaged properties. These values sum over elementary events that sample wide ranges of collision energy, internal energies of the reactants, relative orientations, and collision strengths (e.g., glancing to headon). It has been a long-standing challenge to look inside this statistical averaging to discern the intimate details of reaction dynamics (1). Many techniques have been developed that permit partial selection and control of the physical states of reactants before their encounters. As the averaging is stripped away, a deeper understanding of chemical reaction mechanisms begins to emerge. On page 98 of this issue, Chang et al. (2) describe a new approach to studies of bimolecular reactions using conformer-selected molecules and a target of ultracold atoms.