Researchers Succeed in Performing Modern Alchemy by Developing Luminescent Iron Molecules

The first iron-based molecule that has the potential to emit light has been developed by a research team at Lund University in Sweden. This new molecule can contribute to the production of environmentally friendly and cost-effective materials such as displays, light sources and solar cells.

Metal-based dye molecules have been developed by chemists for more than 50 years for a variety of applications such as solar cells and displays. Ideally, this would comprise of environmentally friendly and common metals like iron, but an iron-based dye molecule capable of emitting light is yet to be developed despite several attempts. Researchers from all over the world had to opt for various precious and rare metals, like ruthenium, that provided the desired properties in an effortless manner.

The Lund researchers, with the help of an improved molecular design, have now succeeded in manipulating the electronic properties of iron-based molecules so that they resemble the ruthenium-based substances in a much better way.

For the very first time, the researchers have developed an iron-based dye molecule capable of capturing light and subsequently emitting light of a different color. Achieving the latter is more difficult, which indeed highlights the significance of the researchers' accomplishment in demonstrating that the new iron molecule emits orange light.

Medieval alchemists tried to produce gold from other substances, but failed. You could say that we have succeeded in performing modern alchemy by giving the iron properties which resemble those of ruthenium.

Kenneth Wärnmark, Professor of Chemistry, Lund University

The new study has been published in Nature and illustrates an iron complex with a record-breaking life span in its luminescent and light-absorbing state: 100 picoseconds, which is less than a billionth of a second. It is considered to be quite sufficient despite the seemingly inconceivably short time interval.

In the world of chemistry, this is enough time for the molecules to emit light.

Villy Sundström, Professor of Chemistry, Lund University

These results provide a vital step towards possible future applications as a luminescent material, such as for displays and lighting, and also as light absorbers in photocatalysts and solar cells for producing solar fuel. A steady development of new and improved molecules is essential to attain this goal.

"We expect that the next step to develop the actual molecules that are suitable for commercial applications could take another five years", says Petter Persson, chemistry researcher at Lund University.

Researchers from the Ångström Laboratory in Uppsala and from Copenhagen were also part of the study besides the researchers from Lund.

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