Of Chemistry, Love and Nanobots; September 2001; Scientific American Magazine; by Richard E. Smalley; 2 Page(s)
WHEN A BOY AND A GIRL fall in love, it is often said that the chemistry between them is good. This common use of the word "chemistry" in human relations comes close to the subtlety of what actually happens in the more mundane coupling of molecules. In a chemical reaction between two "consenting" molecules, bonds form between some of the atoms in what is usually a complex dance involving motion in multiple dimensions. Not just any two molecules will react. They have to be right for each other. And if the chemistry is really, really good, the molecules that do react will all produce the exact product desired.
Near the center of the typical chemical reaction, the particular atoms that are going to form the new bonds are not the only ones that jiggle around: so do all the atoms they are connected to and the ones connected to these in turn. All these atoms must move in a precise way to ensure that the result of the reaction is the one intended. In an ordinary chemical reaction five to 15 atoms near the reaction site engage in an intricate three-dimensional waltz that is carried out in a cramped region of space measuring no more than a nanometer on each side.