Scientists at the Royal Society of Chemistry (RSC), the University of Warwick and IBM Research–Zurich have created a microscopic image of the smallest possible molecule with five rings—just in time for the 2012 Summer Olympics in London. The researchers call the molecule "olympicene" and it's made up of 19 carbon atoms and 12 hydrogen atoms and consists of five interlocked benzene rings.

The image was created using a combination of synthetic chemistry and an imaging technique known as noncontact atomic force microscopy, which detects the weak attractive force between the tip of a cantilever and a sample surface.

The molecule is related to single-layer graphite, also known as graphene, and is one of a number of compounds that potentially have interesting electronic and optical properties. One possible use would be for for the next generation of solar cells and high-tech lighting sources such as light-emitting diodes (LEDs), according to the researchers.

Larry Greenemeier