We are building a machine which can non-destructively identify single, gas-phase molecular ions.
Imagine I give you a single molecule, and ask the the most natural question one can ask: what molecule is it? Today, we have no method that can answer this question. Spectroscopy has the specificity to identify a single species among millions of possibilities, but outside of a few carefully chosen species, lacks the sensitivity to detect individual methods. Destructive methods, like mass spectrometry, can easily detect individual ions, but the measurement – for example, the mass of the species – is not specific enough to identify the species.
We plan to use a combination of established techniques -nondestructive mass spectroscopy in laser cooled ion traps, and tagging action spectroscopy with nobel gasses – to realize high-fidelity infrared spectroscopy of single molecules. Extensions of the technique will be able to identify the conformer, stereoisomer of the molecule in question.