The chiral difference between two molecules often plays a huge role in pharmacology and physiology, even though the two seem nearly identical. The difference, simply that they’re mirror images of each other, turns out to mean, for example, that some molecules of thalidomide cure morning sickness while their chiral twins lead to deformed children being born.
Separating the two kinds of molecules has been difficult since their chemical properties are essentially identical. Now scientists at Hebrew University of Jerusalem in Israel have discovered a cheap and pretty easy way of using magnets to separate the particles. Their findings have been published in journal Science.
Here’s a snippet from the study abstract:
Here, we show experimentally that the interaction of chiral molecules with a perpendicularly magnetized substrate is enantiospecific. Thus, one enantiomer adsorbs preferentially when the magnetic dipole is pointing up, whereas the other adsorbs faster for the opposite alignment of the magnetization. The interaction is not controlled by the magnetic field per se, but rather by the electron spin orientations, and opens prospects for a distinct approach to enantiomeric separations.