Keypad locks, such as those for preventing auto theft, allow an action to take place only when the right “password” is entered: a series of numbers punched in a pre-set sequence. Now a team of scientists at the Weizmann Institute of Science has created a molecule that can function as an ultra-miniaturized version of a keypad locking mechanism. Their work appeared in the Journal of the American Chemical Society.
The molecule, synthesized in the lab of Prof. Abraham Shanzer of the Organic Chemistry Department, is composed of two small linked units, or fluorescent probes, separated by a molecular chain to which iron can bind. One of these probes can shine a bright fluorescent blue and the other a fluorescent green, but only if the surrounding conditions are right. Instead of the electric pulses of an electronic keypad, the molecular keypad inputs consist of iron ions, acids, bases and ultraviolet light. Shanzer and his group – which included Drs. David Margulies, Galina Melman and Clifford Felder – were thus able to produce a molecule-size device that lights up only when the correct chemical “passwords” are introduced. “It’s just like a tiny ATM banking machine,” says Shanzer.
He believes this molecular keypad lock – the first of its kind – will lead to new ideas and inventions in such areas as information security: “Faster and more powerful molecular locks could serve as the smallest ID tags, providing the ultimate defense against forgery.” In the future, molecular keypads might also prove valuable in designing “smart” diagnostic equipment to detect the release of biological molecules or disease-indicative changes in the body.
Prof. Abraham Shanzer’s research is supported by the Nella and Leon Benoziyo Center for Neurological Diseases; the J & R Center for Scientific Research; the Helen and Martin Kimmel Center for Molecular Design; the Schmidt Minerva Center for Supramolecular Architectures; and Mr. and Mrs. Mordechai Glikson, Israel. Prof. Shanzer is the incumbent of the Siegfried and Irma Ullmann Professorial Chair.