November 1, 2012
This article appeared in Berkeley Engineer magazine, Fall 2012

Like baseball players and politicians, some types of molecules have a distinct left or right orientation, known as chirality. The right-handed and left-handed forms — or enantiomers — of such molecules can display distinct characteristics.

Now, a multi-institutional team of researchers, led in part by mechanical engineering professor Xiang Zhang, has created the first artificial molecules whose chirality can be quickly switched from a right to left orientation with a beam of light.

The potential applications for this newfound technology span a wide range of fields, including the detection of toxic and explosive chemicals, advances in wireless communication and high-speed data processing systems, medical research and pharmaceutical drug development.