Radical molecule could produce plastic magnets

April 12, 2022 | Alexandra Goho

Radical molecule could produce plastic magnets

A team of chemists has synthesized an unusual organic molecule that could lead to cheaper and lighter magnets.

Using theoretical calculations, as well as experimental data, researchers at Purdue University in West Lafayette, Ind., and the University of Southern California in Los Angeles deduced the configuration of all the electrons in the molecule. Called 5-dehydro-1,3-quinodimethane, or DMX for short, the compound contains only carbon and hydrogen atoms. It is also a radical, in that it contains three unpaired electrons that orbit the molecule. The chemists describe the compound in the Jan. 30 Angewandte Chemie.

Normally, two electrons occupy each molecular orbital and they spin in opposite directions. When a radical molecule such as DMX harbors several orbitals containing only a single electron, the general rule is that the unpaired electrons will all spin in the same direction. However, in the case of DMX, one of the three unpaired electrons spins in the direction opposite to that of the other two. That mismatch breaks one of the fundamental rules in chemistry.

Although researchers have seen such electron behavior in compounds containing metal atoms such as iron, this is the first time they’ve witnessed it in an organic molecule. The researchers say that molecules like DMX, with several unpaired electrons, might serve as building blocks for new types of polymer magnets.