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Neutrons – Deuterium shuffle

Using the single-crystal diffractometer TOPAZ, Oak Ridge National Laboratory confirmed the exact position of deuterium atoms from selective deuteration of benzene molecules. Credit: Jill Hemman/Oak Ridge National Laboratory, U.S. Dept. of Energy

Scientists have found a new method to strategically add deuterium to benzene, an aromatic compound commonly found in crude oil. When applied to the active ingredient of drugs to incorporate deuterium, it could dramatically improve the drugs’ efficacy and safety and even introduce new medicines.

To validate the method, which was published in Nature, a team led by W. Dean Harman of the University of Virginia worked with Xiaoping Wang at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory’s Spallation Neutron Source. Wang successfully verified the exact position of deuterium atoms that resulted from the selective deuteration of benzene molecules using single crystal neutron diffraction.

“Because the high sensitivity of neutrons to hydrogen and its deuterium isotope, we were able to quantitatively assign not only the positions of the deuterium atoms at the atomic level, but also determine precisely how many were added on each side of the benzene molecule,” Wang said. “This is important in designing new therapeutic drugs.”