PerspectiveChemistry

Clathrates grow up

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Science  03 Mar 2017:
Vol. 355, Issue 6328, pp. 912
DOI: 10.1126/science.aam7927

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Summary

Although methane is a volatile gas, it can be efficiently trapped in ice, which can then be readily set on fire. Beyond the curiosity of this “burning ice,” caged methane is of great importance as one of the world's largest natural gas resources (1). In these materials, known as clathrates, methane molecules are tightly bound in nanometer-sized, regularly interspaced cages. Other inorganic materials, such as the silica mineral chibaite, can similarly encapsulate methane and higher hydrocarbons (2). Simple organic compounds have also been found to trap various organic molecules upon crystallization (3). On page 931 of this issue, Lin et al. (4) show that bipyramidal gold nanocrystals can be programmed to assemble into colloidal crystals with structures that resemble those of molecular clathrates, but on a much higher length scale.