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A new set of molecular building blocks aims to make complex chemistry as simple and accessible as a toy construction kit.

Researchers at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign and collaborators at Revolution Medicines Inc. developed a new class of chemical building blocks that simply snap together to form 3D molecules with complex twists and turns, and an automated machine to assemble the blocks like a 3D printer for molecules.

This automation could allow chemists and nonchemists alike to develop new pharmaceuticals, materials, diagnostic probes, catalysts, perfumes, sweeteners and more, said study leader Dr. Martin D. Burke, a professor of chemistry at Illinois and a member of the Carle Illinois College of Medicine, as well as a medical doctor. The researchers reported their findings in the journal Nature.

"It makes very complex 3D molecules in a very simple way," Burke said. "This has been the secret chamber that only card-carrying chemists with decades of experience can enter. This new advance blows that door wide open. Now everyone can come in and play in the sandbox, because these very complex molecules become very accessible."

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