IBM creates Triangulene – An “impossible” molecule that was 70 years in the making and could power quantum computers

3D simulation of triangulene: Atomic Action. Photo credits: IBM Research/Niko Pavlicek

Don’t chemists hate being beaten by physicists at their own game? IBM research team led by physicist Leo Gross have done just that.

For the first time Gross’s team synthesized a strange and unstable triangular molecule called Triangulene that chemists have been chasing to produce by conventional chemistry for nearly 70 years.

“Triangulene is the first molecule that we’ve made that chemists have tried hard, and failed, to make already,” Gross told Nature.

The traces of the development of the molecule dates back to the 1950s when first predicted mathematically by Czech scientist, Eric Clar. He calculated that – a triangle-shaped hydrocarbon molecule could be made from six fused circular benzene molecules but would be unstable electronically due to two unpaired electrons in its arrangement.

Since then, the mysterious molecule has ushered scientists for nearly 70 years in a pursuit for the unstable molecule – all resulting in failure due to the two lone electron pairs that just don’t want to be single.


The molecule in question i.e. Triangulene is similar to the ‘wonder material’ graphene in that it’s only one-atom-thick. But unlike sheet of carbon atoms, triangulene is made up of six hexagonal carbon atoms joined along the corners to form – you guessed it – a triangular structure

The carbon atoms in each of the corners of triangulene’s structure are bonded to a hydrogen atom – an unusual arrangement that leaves two free electrons unable to form a stable bond and that’s what has made the structure so difficult to construct.

Electrons like being in pairs, so molecules with free electrons are highly reactive and thus unstable. No one has ever been able to synthesize the molecule until now.


While most scientists build molecules from the ground up, the IBM team led by Leo Gross decided to do the opposite.

Instead of building up the structure molecule by molecule, they whitted down a larger precursor model and blasted off couple of extra hydrogens atoms from the molecule using an electron beam, leaving the elusive apparition molecule that is triangulene.

Later, they were even able to image the structure using a scanning probe microscope.


“To my knowledge, this is the first synthesis of unsubstituted triangulene,” says chemist Takeji Takui of Osaka City University in Japan,who has previously synthesized triangulene-type molecules to Nature,

This new material is already proving to be impressive. They found, as they had expected, the two unpaired electrons triangulene molecules to have aligned spins — the quantum-mechanical property that gives electrons a magnetic orientation, granting the molecule magnetic properties.

IBM’s ‘5 In 5’ Technological Predictions For 2022

This property of triangulene has a lot of potential in electronics and foresees applications in quantum computing, quantum information processing and specifically by allowing devices to encode and process information by manipulating the electron spin – a field known as spintronics.

There’s still a lot to learn about triangulene by IBM researchers. Other research teams will independently attempt to verify the discovery by trying to reproduce the results to check whether the researchers actually created the elusive triangle-shaped molecule.

Although, it still isn’t ideal, as creating each triangulene molecule by hand is a slow and expensive process. But when the talk is of something as lucrative as quantum computers, then IBM definitely has set a new bar in getting new materials off the ground and it won’t take that many to make a major scientific breakthrough.

The research has been published in Nature Nanotechnology.

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Source Nature Quartz

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