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The chemical processes which govern combustion, cloud formation, and climate change are extremely complex. And it appears that some new research has shown that these reactions (in addition to others) are entirely more complex than we ever thought. Researchers from Columbia University, led by Assistant Professor of Mechanical Engineering Michael P. Burke, have discovered a fourth class of chemical reaction known as “chemically termolecular reactions.” This involves the breaking and forming of chemical bonds between three molecules, when the collision of two molecules collides again, with a third. Their work was published in the journal Nature Chemistry.

The reaction was actually first hypothesized in the 1920s, but was at thought at the time to be unimportant or nonexistent, so no one managed to properly study them until now. The research used computer simulations to observe chemical reactions in a way that is difficult, if not impossible, in the traditional lab setting. According to Burke, “The power of these state-of-the-art computational methods is that they can provide a unique lens into harsh chemical environments ill-suited for experimental techniques for studying individual reaction dynamics.”

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