What's the biggest molecule?

Ljiljana Funk answers our final question of the show.
18 June 2019



What's the biggest molecule?


Ljiljana - If we talk about the synthetic ones, there is the one that was made recently, relatively recently, 2014 in Zürich, and it's called PG5 and it's a polymer generation five. It's a huge branched polymer that has 17 million atoms. So the scientists managed to...

Chris - Of what?

Ljiljana - Of, they have carbon, nitrogen and oxygen in its structure. And if you imagine water has three atoms, this is huge.

Chris - So what is this stuff and what would one do with it?

Ljiljana - So they wanted to make it because there is a kind of ongoing competition, who's going to make the bigger polymer. So and... with using the standard chemistry, so they did a very nice trick where they use all the standard polymer chemistry to make such a giant molecule.

Chris - But what’s the difference between that and a rubber tyre? Because if I make a huge rubber tyre that's an enormous polymer isn't it? So is that not a massive molecule?

Ljiljana - It's not actually. It is a polymer but it's not as huge as you are actually making it.

Chris - So it's lots of molecules added together, not all linked up?

Ljiljana - This one is really linked chemically, all the atoms are linked chemically. So they're thinking because it has a size of a small virus. So it's a 10 nanometres size…

Chris - What the molecule itself?

Ljiljana - Yes!

Chris - Wow that is big! 

Ljiljana - So they think they will be able to use it for drug delivery, because it has different branches that have different affinity to water. These branches will probably collapse and they could kind of create a shield around the drug and then deliver the drug to the cells.

Chris - Is it easy to make? Because one of the frustrations with many of these enormous things is they are really difficult to make. So although they might have great applications they’re such a pain to make, you can't possibly scale them.

Ljiljana - I agree but this is, this was a particularly interesting paper, a particularly interesting molecule because they have used a standard chemistry so it's relatively easy to make it.


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