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First fundamentals for designer sugar

First fundamentals for designer sugar

© AG Schlickum/TU Braunschweig
Sugar molecules under the microscope

QuantumFrontiers researchers isolate individual sugar molecules

Carbohydrates are the stuff of life. From the smallest worm to us humans to the sequoia tree: about two thirds of the components of all living things usually end in the sugar-typical suffix “-ose”. Therefore, there are enough reasons to take a very close look at sugars. All the more astonishing, then, that until now it has hardly been known what these molecules look like in detail. In an international network, researchers at TU Braunschweig have now succeeded in mapping and characterising individual molecules.

In collaboration with the Cluster of Excellence QuantumFrontiers, scientists have succeeded for the first time in researching individual sugar molecules and the interaction between them at sub-molecular resolution.

Sugar in isolation

In order to isolate the individual sugar molecules, the scientists combined two large-scale devices. First, an electrospray deposition system brings the dissolved sugar up to ultra-high vacuum and onto an atomically clean metal surface, then the individual molecules are imaged with a scanning tunnelling microscope. To achieve the high resolution, i.e. the detailed imaging within a sugar molecule, specially functionalised tips (carbon monoxide tip atom) were used. For targeted design and future applications of carbohydrate-based substances, detailed understanding is the first step.


Johannes Seibel, Giulio Fittolani, Hossein Mirhosseini, Xu Wu, Stephan Rauschenbach, Kelvin Anggara, Peter H. Seeberger, Martina Delbianco, Thomas D. Kühne, Uta Schlickum, and Klaus Kern
Visualizing Chiral Interactions in Carbohydrates Adsorbed on Au(111) by High-Resolution STM Imaging.
Angew. Chem. Int. Ed. 2023, e202305733.