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Molecular cage traps rare gases

Organic compound could cull valuable xenon from the air and detect cancer-causing radon

8:00am, July 25, 2014

With a squeeze, an organic molecule can snatch rare gases from the air.

The compound contains cavities that are just the right size to nab atoms of xenon, krypton and radon. These noble gases range from valuable to radioactive; they’re all largely inert, usually present in low or negligible concentrations in the air and extremely difficult to capture. Researchers hope the new molecular trap could one day be used to sort radioactive waste gas, monitor home air and collect valuable resources.

“I would die to have these compounds in my hands,” says organic chemist Siegfried Waldvogel of the Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz, in Germany, who works on chemical sensors.

But the new chemical cage was a bit of a “happy accident,” admits materials chemist Andrew Cooper of the University of Liverpool in the England.

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