After a tweet by president Trump on Twitter that contained the non-existing word “covfefe”, chemists from all over the world grasped directly that this word should be understood as a new molecule consisting of cobalt (Co), vanadium (V) and iron (Fe). Right now, UdG- and ICREA researcher Marcel Swart has determined its structure and found a surprising coincidence.
On May 30 the president of the United States, Donald Trump, inadvertently wrote a tweet containing a new, so-far non-existing, word: “covfefe” (Despite the constant negative press covfefe). This slip of the pen created a major interest online. What did president Trump mean to say with the word? Most likely, based on the context of the tweet, he intended to put “coverage”. The tweet itself was erased, but he jumped on the bandwagon by adding a challenge in a follow-up tweet: “Who can figure out the true meaning of covfefe??? Enjoy!”
Chemists from all over the world responded to the challenge as they grasped directly that it could be nothing else than a new molecule: CoVFeFe (one cobalt atom combined with one vanadium and two irons). Immediately they started to wonder what would be its structure, and over a little more than one week five different possibilities were put forward: square planar, triangular, linear, tetrahedral, and butterfly.
All the elements within this molecule are transition-metals that can distribute the electrons in different ways over the 3d orbitals, leading for each of these five possible structures to a multitude of spin states that could be involved. Marcel Swart, ICREA Research Professor and director of the IQCC institute (UdG), is an expert in spin states and started using computational chemistry to determine which one of the five structures is the most stable, and which spin state is involved.
His investigations led to the conclusion that the most stable structure is tetrahedral (3) with six unpaired electrons. Apart from publishing all data in an freely accessible online database (iochem-bd.org), which is obligatory nowadays, Marcel Swart studied the new molecule in more detail and observed a striking result. One of the orbitals of the molecule (LUMO) has the form of the haircut of president Trump. Moreover, curiously enough, one of the other orbitals (HOMO-5) resembles another Donald: Donald Duck. This and more he explained at his blog in an entry that has already been visited almost 6000 times, by far the most widely read entry on his blog.
Some of the scientists involved are also considering writing a scientific paper on this discovery, which would be one step too far for Marcel. However, he has prepared an image, freely available, that can be printed on a t-shirt for all those people inspired by this curious and enjoyable discovery.