A team of researchers led by Jani Kotakoski at the University of Vienna and Jannik Meyer at the University of Tübingen has found both nitrogen and oxygen to behave in an unexpected way. Oxygen was found complicit in making a bond with more than two carbon atoms, and it has been the main element of surprise. The study published in a renowned journal “Nature Communication” provides a comprehensive overview of the bonding configuration of oxygen and nitrogen. The results not only endorsed conventional wisdom related to the configurations of both atoms, but also provided new insights into the behavior of these atoms.

The direct images of atoms developed using state-of-the-art scanning transmission electron microscopy have taken the scientists by surprise. The most part of nitrogen and oxygen bonding with one-atom-thick graphene was the textbook examples of the bonding configuration. However there was an element of surprise, as Christoph Hofer, the lead author of the study, identified. He said, “What really surprised us was the additional presence of structures with oxygen bonded to three carbon neighbors.” He further remarked, “Until now, the exception of oxygen with three bonds was only known in an unusual highly charged state, referred to as oxonium, which is difficult to stabilize.”

You might be wondering why there is so much fuss being made of oxygen’s unusual bonding. Oxygen—in the company of carbon, hydrogen and nitrogen—constitutes the building blocks of life. Any new knowledge about their behavior, no matter how trivial it sounds—is a groundbreaking discovery. It helps scientists to both understand the building block of life and to engineer completely new structures. So if an atom has been found guilty of making more bonds with others, there is every reason to be surprised and reconstruct the old way of thinking. The potential of this new discovery must not be underrated, as it will single-handedly revolutionize the future of materials around us.

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