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Non-Equilibrium Systems

Non-equilibrium molecular systems are subject to the flux of matter, information and energy.

Indeed, the non-equilibrium behaviour is a defining characteristic of life. For example, while the human body only contains ~5 grams of the ubiquitous chemical energy currency, adenosine triphosphate (ATP) at any given moment, your body synthesised and turned over 50-75 kilograms of ATP to drive the non-equilibrium cellular processes to keep you alive for the last 24 hours!

Chemists are increasingly seeking to exploit non-equilibrium process in man-made molecular systems, often incorporating inspiration from both biology and macroscopic mechanical devices. Progress in the area was highlighted by the award of the 2016 Nobel prize for Chemistry to Stoddart, Feringa and Sauvage for their pioneering development of molecular machines.

Research in non-equilibrium systems falls into four categories:

Biological Energy Transduction

Life drives away from equilibrium using/generating photons/chemical fuel/electrochemical potential gradients. Free energy changes are also manifested in the form of order and information (i.e. entropy).

Chemical & Catalytic Energy Transduction

Systems for the transduction of chemical energy. Normally catalysis is a towards-equilibrium-process. However, catalysis can drive systems away from equilibrium when there is an energy input e.g. photo / electrocatalysis, or when there are oscillating conditions.

Enzymes can be considered as turning over fuels (e.g. ATP, GTP or chemical gradients) to drive other parts of a system away from equilibrium. Could similar principles be extended to synthetic/biomimetic catalytic systems?