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The ability to selectively excite and break specific bonds in molecules would open new vistas in synthetic chemistry, allowing the creation of compounds that are difficult to synthesize via conventional chemical techniques. However, decades of research have shown that, with a few exceptions [1], when energy is put into a specific molecular bond—with a laser, for example—it is quickly redistributed among many vibrations in the molecule long before a reaction may occur. In other words, attempting to selectively put energy into a bond usually leads to the same chemical reaction as heating the reactants on a hot plate. Surprisingly, Lukas Krumbein, at the Max Planck Institute for Solid State Research in Germany, and colleagues have now observed that a bond in a large molecule can be selectively broken by adding energy to the system in the simplest way possible—by colliding the molecule with a surface [2]. The result improves our understanding of the dynamics of large molecules and could offer novel ways to control their reaction products.

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