Molecule of the Week: December 13

December 13, 2010

Strontium Monofluoride, SrF

Normally when a metal and nonmetal combine they do so to form ionic compounds, like NaCl. We’re all familiar with the crystalline structures of such compounds which are essentially long lattice arrays of alternating metals and nonmetals bound ionically. By contrast, molecules are two or more atoms (usually nonmetals) joined in a specific discreet shape, like H2O. Think about the molecules you know, how many contain a metal and nonmetal? Lasers cooled SrF to a few hundred microkelvin

Under particular conditions, dipolar molecules of a metal and nonmetal can be observed. Unlike the conventional lattice structure associated with ionic compounds, a metal and nonmetal can be induced to form a dipolar molecule strontium monofluoride. 

When cooled to near absolute zero, matter takes on bizarre quantum mechanical behavior. Until recently, only atoms had been cooled to these near zero Kelvin temperatures, but not molecules. By cooling such polar molecules like SrF to near absolute zero temperatures, researchers can manipulate their extreme magnetic properties that function given their dipolarity. 

The bar-magnet characteristics of SrF makes them useful for quantum calculations and newly imagined supercomputer applications.