Abstract: After Cinderella had fled the ball, Prince Charming was able to track her down because only her foot was dainty enough to fit the glass slipper, made by her fairy godmother, that she had left behind. Now chemists around the world are combining the roles of fairy godmother and Prince Charming, to make slippers that enable specific chemical molecules to be recognised, trapped and processed.
The slippers, or molecular imprinted polymers (MIPs), as they are known, are designed not only for the size, but also for the shape and the chemical properties of their target molecules. MIPs have been tailored to fit chemicals (known as print molecules) ranging from lead dissolved in water to sarin nerve gas.
Once the MIP has been polymerised, the print molecules used in its manufacture can be knocked out of their shoes by chemical processing. The shoes can then be used by chemists playing the role of Prince Charming, to track down other print molecules. Like Cinderella's slipper, the MIP will only fit identical copies of the print molecules used to make them. The fit is so perfect that they will track down those molecules and react with them even when they are extremely scarce.