Chemists from the University of Virginia in Charlottesville have developed a rotational spectroscopy technique that allows them to watch as a molecule alters the conformation of its constituent atoms.
Such changes take only picoseconds, although they happened 16 times more slowly than theory had predicted in the molecule that Brooks Pate and his co-workers studied. The team blasted cyclopropane carboxaldehyde with energy, then followed as it switched between 'syn' and 'anti' isomers, its two stable forms.
Collecting the data took only 52 hours. Using standard methods and apparatus it would have taken about 27 years, the authors estimate.