Researchers develop new theory to explain stability of carbon, nitrogen, and hydrogen molecules

Russian scientists have elucidated why molecules consisting of carbon, nitrogen, and hydrogen are prevalent in studies of crude oil, celestial chemistry, and various earthly phenomena. This discovery has streamlined the previously convoluted realm of organic chemistry, providing a coherent and logical system rooted in quantum physics.

Published in The Journal of Physical Chemistry Letters, this study not only gratifies perfectionists but also promises to aid astrophysicists in identifying novel “chemical species” in outer space. Skoltech Professor Artem R. Oganov, the study’s principal investigator, compared traditional organic chemistry education to memorizing a disorganized phone book, filled with stable and unstable molecules with varying reactivity.

Oganov explained, “Our study remedies this situation and shows how to explain and predict these things from first principles for the system of carbon, nitrogen, and hydrogen. Now there’s one small chart that explains whatever we’ve seen so far in space or in crude oil, and then some, as far as the combinations of these three atoms are concerned.”

The study borrowed principles from nuclear physics and nanoscience, identifying “magic” molecules with lower energy states than their closest counterparts. According to the laws of physics, matter gravitates towards the lowest energy state available. Consequently, organized systems tend to degrade over time. A juicy apple, for instance, loses energy to decay or consumption.

Skatole (C9NH9), despite its malodorous reputation, is close to being a “magic” molecule and is used sparingly in ice cream and perfume for its aroma. Elizaveta Vaneeva, the lead author, noted that the stability map developed in the study aligns with molecules found in crude oil and outer space, potentially aiding astrochemists in their searches.

Moreover, this research could assist organic chemists in synthesizing industrially useful compounds, such as organic dyes. Rather than conducting laborious experiments, they could use the method developed here, based on quantum chemical calculations, for predictions.

In the future, the researchers plan to expand their approach to other organic systems, such as amino acids and proteins, further advancing our understanding of the fundamental chemistry underlying the universe.

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