University of Queensland scientists have discovered a ‘recipe’ which allows molecular switches to work at room temperature. The scientists have finally cracked a problem that’s frustrated chemists and physicists for years, potentially leading to a new age of powerful, efficient, and environmentally friendly technologies.

Using quantum mechanics, Professor Ben Powell from UQ’s School of Mathematics and Physics discovered the ‘recipe’.

The research paper about the material has been published in the Journal of the American Chemical Society.

“Switches are materials that can shift between two or more states, such as on and off or 0 and 1, and are the basis of all digital technologies,” Professor Powell said. “This discovery paves the way for smaller and more powerful and energy efficient technologies. You can expect batteries will last longer and computers to run faster.”

Until now, molecular switching has only been possible when the molecules are extremely cold – at temperatures below minus 250° centigrade.

“Engineering-wise, this is a big problem,” Professor Powell said. “By following this detailed ‘recipe’, chemists should be able to make molecular switches work at room temperature.”

Powell expounded, “This will open the door to a bounty of technological advancements, such as improving MRI scans which could lead to earlier detection of diseases like cancer. These materials can also be used for sensors, carbon capture and storage, hydrogen fuel cells, and as actuators, which can turn electricity into movement, which would be useful for robots. All of these applications need materials that can be switched at or above room temperature, which is why our discovery is so important.”

“Using these materials will also reduce the burden on the environment because computer energy use will be cut, aiding the fight against climate change,” he added.

UQ researchers will be collaborating with chemists at the University of Sydney and University of New South Wales, to make new materials to test the new ‘recipe’.


If this technology replicates, tests and has an attractive economic future its sure to grow big and fast. While still a newborn tech, one can be sure engineers and designers are “Postit” noting this for a close watch.

There might be more uses than the first impression, too. As a switch there would only be an energy input to change position instead of constant current like a transistor on a silicon chip. Most chips need powered up to stay in place and some will hold positions when powered down only to fully energize when powered up, but this tech opens up a much broader field of applications, perhaps even on microchips themselves.

It looks like another wave of microelectronics is coming our way!


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