Monday, January 16, 2012


During the last 50 years, physicists made remarkable progress in creating materials that would not exist on Earth without scientists. Custom designed materials that react to temperature, vibrations, humidity or electric currents, absorb or reflect light in desired ways, absorb or repel liquids where needed, stick or don’t stick, hopefully where you want them, are but a few examples.

The maybe most important development in our ability to create new materials have been a large variety of semi-conductors that are instrumental to many now common gadgets, and high temperature superconductivity though, at typically 70 K, the temperatures at which these materials become superconducting is “high” only compared to outer space (or to a physicist who spent too many of his days with liquid Helium).

The most amazing new developements are graphene nano-structures, light yet strong, thin yet impermeable, with high thermal conductivity (possibly directed), high conductivity, and large capacity for hydrogen storage. Nanotechnology has also many potential medical applications that are currently being explored, but enough for now with the praise of modern science.

With that in mind, let us fast forward in time, into the unknown. Imagine our understanding and technical expertise would allow us to do what we do today with atoms to the constituents of atomic nuclei (the protons and neutrons, collectively called “nucleons”). Imagine we could build structures of nucleons that do not occur in nature, structures that are to nuclei what molecules are to atoms. Let us call them “molecei.”

Humans have already brought into existence formations of nucleons that do not occur in nature. By colliding very heavy nuclei, particle physicists have created ever heavier elements. Most recently, the super-heavy elements darmstadtium (Ds), roentgenium (Rg) and copernicium (Cn) with atomic number 110, 111 and 112 have been added to the periodic table. For practical purposes however, these nuclei are not particularly useful because they are very short-lived. It has long been conjectured however, that at even higher atomic numbers, the lifetimes might increase again.

With today’s knowledge of the forces acting in atomic nuclei, and with presently existing technology, it is not possible to create molecei, and maybe they are fundamentally not possible. But if you had asked alchemists 400 years ago what they thought about wires with memory, aerogel, liquid crystals, and ferrofluids, they’d have declared it either magic or impossible. As history has demonstrated over and over again, even experts often fail to properly distinguish the possible from the impossible. So let us be daring, and leave behind the academic carefulness for a moment to speculate what we could do with molecei.

If a positively charged nucleus has a difficult shape, as it would be with molecei, strange and uncommon electron orbits would be the consequence. Electrons might be very loosely bound or highly degenerate, allowing for astonishing optical and electric properties, possibly including superconductivity at room temperature.

The more complicated the shape of a molecei, the more excitations it would have, which would dramatically affect the ability of phonons to propagate. This could cause a medium doted with molecei to have acoustic, and thermal properties the world has never seen, from perfect soundproofing to liquids with enormous heat capacity.

The maybe most exciting possibility is that suitably designed molecei might enable interactions between atomic nuclei that normally require extreme temperatures or densities. Molecei could act as catalysts for nuclear reactions much like molecules can act as catalysts for chemical reactions; it is the old dream of cold nuclear fusion that could solve all our energy problems – provided it does not take more energy to produce the molecei to begin with.

Finally, molecei would be the next step in our ability to design miniature tools and to unravel nature’s secrets on even smaller distances.


  1. Similar idea: femtomachines. They've appeared in Greg Egan's books Schild's Ladder, Incandescence, and also the short story Riding the Crocodile.

  2. Yes, fascinating, will pass on to buddies at "JLab." However, be careful about creating "strangelets" ("a hypothetical particle consisting of a bound state of roughly equal numbers of up, down, and strange quarks" says the usual suspect.) They could, what, destroy the Earth, or more? Odd to me: how come the Standard Model can't give a firmer prediction on strangelets? Wi-pe says theory still uncertain, but evidence favors "normal" (relatively speaking!) matter crust on neutron stars, which would be "strange" if the strangelet hypothesis were true.

    W.V. gave me "psykies" - maybe use to name one of your weird constructions? Well, the sound suggests minds or souls, whatever ...

  3. Hi Igor,

    That is interesting, never heard of this. Though calling them "machines" suggests they will be more complicated than complex, which I'm not sure about. Best,


  4. CVD and MBE uncouple composition and structure. Thermodynamically labile compositions persist given kinetics' activation energy. Chemistry is eV and angstroms. Nuclei are MeV and femtometers. Tunneling! Selection rules stabilize nuclear engineering (e.g., high spin long half-life nuclei). More footnotes must be discovered.

    Superheavy elements’ problem is N not Z. Adding enough neutrons for an island of stability nucleus blows. When Ca-40 cannot be your projectile, blowout. A "reasonable" approach is running supernova R-process on pre-loaded superheavies - a modified fusion warhead surrounded by a thick heavy element neutron reflector, deeply buried and snugged in the tunnel. Call it "Tsar Bomba Nucleosynthesis." Ponder sample retrieval and politics.

  5. Hi Bee,

    While still trying to be careful a little history perhaps.


    Once a alchemist always a alchemist just that the technology and concepts has changed?


  6. O-Ops

    Caption for pic should read:

    The energy levels of the bottom quark/bottom anti-quark "atom". The first of these was identified in 1977. Each of these "levels" or "states" is often called a "particle" by particle physicists. The most recent is marked (by me) with a black band. (Notice that the new ``particle'', denoted "3P", is actually a triplet of three different ``particles'', just like the 1P and 2P states below it.)A New Particle at the LHC? Yes, But…

    Matt Strassler How dare the chemists of the world call the materials they work with “atoms” when the whole subject is predicated on the fact that atoms are bound together through the behavior of their constituent electrons!

    Of course I am looking deeply into nature trying ascertain when what is real has manifest according some "preordained schematic drawing" from which we all would like to say in full acceptance, we all agree that the molecei is real and we use it in "the process" all the time.

    While elegance and simplicity are often useful criteria for judging theories, they can sometimes mislead us into thinking we are right, when we are actually infinitely wrong.Paul Steinhardt


  7. Nice idea, but..

    If such structures were stable, I can see no reason why we don't see them around as it is.

    IMHO after the Big Bang there was plenty of opportunities for all possible combinations of quarks, gluons etc to take shape and, to quote Darwin, "only the fittest survived" - ie the stable ones.

    On the other hand, with this nanostuff we may be in for quite some surprises.

    Whatever comes up, I am sure thar Mr. Motl will see it as an argument pro ST or an evil conspiration to undermine it :))


  8. I'm interested to know where the idea of increased stability of elements past a certain number increases. Samuel Delaney take this speculation as a given in his chilling and highly recommended sci-fi classic: "Nova", where such elements DO exist, but only in the cores of stars, and this only exposed at Supernova time, leading the humans of the far distant future to mine supernovae after they explode.

    There has to be some decent scientific speculation on this however, and I'm wondering if the source was physics or chemistry.

    In the meantime, is it possible to create (not today, I bet) pure bunches of gluons, known as glueballs? That's a subject that interests me, as well as the property and stability of same. Stefan, I believe that's you specialty. What say you?

  9. N,

    After the Big Bang it was far too hot for anything to be stable. Nuclei only formed during nucleosynthesis, and then only the lightest ones. Heavier elements only could form once stars and planets were around and generated sufficient pressure. It is conceivably possible that there are stable configurations that just couldn't be reached in any naturally occurring process, much like there are stable molecules that don't come into being in natural processes. Best,


  10. Hi Steven,

    the stable superheavy elements, that's stuff my prof used to talk about 15 years ago, I believe the idea dates back into the 70s. If you want to dig into the topic, you could start with this paper

    Shell stabilization of super- and hyperheavy nuclei without magic gaps

    M. Bender, W. Nazarewicz, P.-G. Reinhard

    and follow references therein. About the glueballs, this is a topic which keeps coming and going. I believe you should be able to find something on the arxiv about it. Best,


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  12. Thank you, Bee! That's what I was looking for! I owe you and Stefan a lunch, say in "The Pit" at NYC's Hard Rock Cafe at Times Square, or at Katz's a bit south and east of there. Yum. Hot pastrami on rye with great Jewish deli mustard to DIE for, believe me.

    Apologies Bee, but digging into arXiv re gluonic engineering, while on my plate, is a bit down my bucket list at the moment. :-(

    In any event, I'm more interested if Humankind can ever assemble multiple gluons in one place, so I'm thinking WAY beyond even THIS thinking.

    Since the bosonic force particles that hold the quarks together in nucleons (protons, neutrons) known as gluons come in three different colours: red, green and blue, and further that such amalgamations are called "glueballs", Bee, I can't help shaking the feeling, the thought really, that such amalgamations would be called redballs, greenballs, and .... the absolutely LEAST FAVORITE named particle of all by men and women alike ... or at least by men: blueballs.

    Stefan, your thoughts?

  13. Bee,

    I’ve always liked thoughts which suggest we keep pushing the envelope. As for creating things not found in nature this also extends to creating conditions which don’t yet exist as it is in the case of temperature levels which won’t naturally occurring until the universe expands in the distant future as to have it present as practically empty . So I see this as going both ways, as to exploring what we get when things are greater and also when things are less.



  14. Hi Steven,

    Gluons are gauge bosons, they are vector fields in the adjoint representation. They don't come in three different types of colors, there's eight of them. Also, there is still confinement. Best,


  15. Hi Phil,

    Yes, that is an interesting example for the creation of conditions that are not found in nature, thanks! Best,


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  17. Hi Bee, thanks. I know about the eight and the eight-fold way, etc., i was just trying to not overwhelm your readers that weren't into this "particle" stuff like me and your regulars. ;-)

    And regarding confinement, didn't Fermilab/Tevatron claim to have broken it re the top quark round about a decade ago, or was that even more 3-sigma BS?

    I'm also well aware of the Clay Mathematics Institute prize for proving WHY confinement exists, as well. Would they award the same prize for proving it doesn't, hmm?

  18. Molecei sounds like some kind of preonic composed superstructures! If they exist, it could be found in some exotic kind of stars where highly degenerated matter could exist.
    We are very far away to manage manipulate the matter at those tiny scales. But yes, it would be a further advance.
    About SHE( superheavy elements), I read about them and the feynmanium long ago.

    Indeed, the Higgs mass hinted by LHC is very near of 126, the following magic number in the normal nuclear shell model! Alto, the Higgs mass is almost equal to the inverse fine structure constant at the Z pole, i.e., have you noticed that approximately

    M(Higgs)= 1/\alpha(M_Zeta pole)=127 GeV/c²????

  19. The dream of high Tc superconductivity at room temperature and the dream of cold nuclear fusion would alone be worth it to put more research on these moleceis.

    Take care Kay

  20. @Kay zum Felde High temperature superconductivity exists - neutron star cores with superfluid neutrons and superconductive protons. Heavy pulsar binary system 1.97 solar-mass 317.5 Hz PSR J1614-2230 rules out more exotic core compositions. No nuclear engineering is required. Use a low effective mass coupler for Cooper pairing, like excitons. Little’s 1964 paper was untestable,

    William A. Little, Phys. Rev. 134 A1416-A1424 (1964)
    Polyacetylenes substituted with polarizable chromophores, [-C(Ar)=(Ar)C-]n, [=(Ar)C-C(Ar)=]n (same polymer).

    Today they can be synthesized at will - if theorists would shut their know-it-all gobs so experimentalists can find out for real, Acc. Chem. Res. 38(9) 745-754 (2005)). McMurry coupling (cheap and sloppy on a benzil), or olefin metathesis (living polymerization, Grubbs or Schrock) from an aromatic aldehyde to a benzil then twofold Tebbe methylenation (lots of choices, Cur. Org. Syn. 2(2) 231 (2005)), then product.

    Little’s calculation supports Tc in excess of 800 C. Appending literal dye molecules can be embellished to a pi-stacked "crystalline" candle around the polyacetylene wick. Just a second...
    The arene is bis-[3,5-di-(9-anthryloxy]benzene. MM+ says the 22-mer is stabilized by -29.733 kcal/mole-arene versus its separated molecular components.

    A footnote adds long side chains to each chromophore for polymer solubility (probably forming a self-ordered liquid crystal phase - great for drawing aligned polymer fiber). Ends-terminate with a sulfur for gold electrode bonding. Assemble a segmented polymer redox series for a single molecule supercon diode (via Grubbs or Schrock). Add a Y-branch for a single molecule supercon transistor. What is important is not that it could fail, but that it could succeed. Now, weaponize! A supercon cannot do chemistry, its valence electrons being otherwise engaged, unless it goes normal. BCS and ceramic supercons don’t care. Tc of a few hundred Celsius suggests tensile cables and armor.

  21. Uncle Al,

    didn't know this. Really interesting. I was interested in high Tc superconducting when I was a student back in the mid to late eighties. I haven't heard about Little's paper back then. There were so many things published that time, when the high Tc's went to a Nobel prize 1986 when I remember it correctly.

    Take care Kay

  22. Kay,

    Little was "discredited." Theory now says "They cannot work." Little's molecules cannot be grant-funded to look. Bednorz and Müller caught IBM/Zurich's wrath for embezzling lab funding, seeking "impossible" high temp supercons rather than assigned high Cp supercon wire insulation. Would *you* dare disavow BCS? Theorists still have their panties in a twist 30 years later.

    We suffer a cultural failure of science. The Church of Rome wielded its god as a bludgeon to enforce malleable ignorance. Professional management now wields its gods of business plan and minimized risk in kind, as though its little ape brains could decree reality.

    "Toroidal atomic nuclei are silly." "Atomic numbers above reciprocal fine structure constant will spark the vacuum, instantly inverse beta-decaying." No theory is better than falsifying observation. A "necessary" observation stubbornly not exceeding 3 sigma above theory blank... while being less than half that above real world noise is crapola not Shinola. Theory is wrong when it observably fails. LOOK.

  23. Uncle Al,

    back in the eighties, I was convinced and I'm still convinced, that spinwaves or such a thing have no good influence on superconductivity. And I was astonished, more subconsciously that only cuprates are able to do superconductivity.

    Take care Kay

    Doped LaOFeAs, Tc = 52K; Cs_3C_60 Tc = 38 K, MgB_2 Tc = 39 K.

    A good idea need only be testable. It is believable afterward.

    Physical theory has become fantastical parameterizations - epicycles whispering failure not success. General Relativity assumes the Equivalence Principle. Fern-Parallelismus and Einstein-Cartan-Sciama-Kibble gravitations do not. Chemical & Engineering News 90(3) 4 (2012). [aside from the glaring typo] Chemistry is nipping at physics' naked heels.

  25. Sabine wrote:
    ...structures of nucleons that do not occur in nature, structures that are to nuclei what molecules are to atoms. Let us call them “molecei.”

    Should this include also different " "types" of nucleons" than just protons and neutrons? If yes, then I don't know, but then if one really needs to find a general word for these kind of composites, maybe "molenuclei" instead of molecei could eventually be more consistent with the naming of special occurences like e.g. the

  26. I wasn't thinking of different types of nucleons here. They're even less likely to be stable.

  27. I don't know wether you noticed this sentence in the above cited article:

    "She added that other hypernuclei with large neutron-to-proton ratios could exist in a stable state, even though ordinary neutron-rich nuclei are theoretically unstable."

  28. Dear "Blogprofil,"

    I wasn't so much concerned with making neutron-rich nuclei stable, but with contemplating what would be possible if we'd manage to make stable nuclei in various shapes. I don't understand how adding strangeness would help to make them stable. As to your suggestion to use an existing word: names make themselves, time will tell which name sticks. Best,




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