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Y2K, the Molecule

17 December 1999 7:00 pm
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You've purged that old software from your C drive, tucked a few extra cans of baked beans into the cupboard, and maybe even stuffed some cash under the mattress. So now you probably think you're ready for Y2K. Maybe so. But what about Y2K? The molecule, that is.

Y2K doesn't actually exist, and nobody's planning to produce it. But in theory, it could be made from two atoms of the rare, expensive metal yttrium (Y) and one of potassium (K). In today's Science, a pair of chemists from the University of Minnesota, Minneapolis, reports that Y2K will be stable, should chemists ever attempt to create it. Twelve hours of supercomputer number crunching revealed that when these ingredients come together, the result is a tiny burst of energy and an either linear or T-shaped Y2K molecule.

What properties a chunk of solid Y2K would have is still a bit of a mystery, says Jeffrey Roberts, who performed the analysis along with theoretical chemist Christopher Cramer. Roberts says he hit upon the idea for the molecule while sitting through a less than stellar talk at a chemistry meeting. "My mind started to wander, and I was looking at a periodic table, spelling out words with the elements," he says. He talked over the idea of studying the molecule with Cramer in the hallway. And when the two later searched the literature, they were somewhat shocked to learn that it had never been examined before, says Roberts.

For an encore, Roberts and Cramer say they'll check out Y3K. Well, maybe not right away. Says Roberts: "We'll do it when it's time."

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