The Camille and Henry Dreyfus Foundation-sponsored Chemistry ShortsTM series released its newest film, “Cracking Chirality,” which explores how the essential molecules of life, like DNA, RNA, and proteins, acquired their homochiral structures and how magnetic rocks at the bottom of a prebiotic lake may have set the stage for life as we know it.

Chirality is the idea that some molecules come in two mirror-image configurations. Despite having the exact same chemical compositions, their physical structures are different. These left-handed and right-handed molecules can have different properties and functions. Understanding how chiral molecules function differently is essential to chemical synthesis and medicine. But it also holds a curious question about early life: why are the nucleic acids that hold genetic information in all of life right-handed, while the amino acids that they encode left-handed?

In “Cracking Chirality,” two Harvard University scientists, Dimitar Sasselov and S. Furkan Ozturk, present their exciting new findings: magnetized molecules found at the bottom of lakes on the primordial Earth may be the key to how important biological molecules crystallized and grew, tipping the scales from a 50-50 mixture of molecules to homochiral solutions made up of just one or the other. Their simple experimental setups, growing crystals on tiny magnetized plates, help provide a solution to an essential question about life itself that has plagued scientists for decades.

“Cracking Chirality” is targeted towards high school and college students, and can be used as a starting point for discussions around the chemical origins of life, molecular chirality, electron spin, magnetism, and more. A full lesson plan with an experiment to accompany the film is available on the Chemistry Shorts website.

The Chemistry Shorts series spotlights the positive impact of chemistry on modern life as scientists work to solve important problems and create new opportunities that benefit humanity. See all of the films and lesson plans in this series at and keep updated on new films and resources by following Chemistry Shorts on TwitterFacebook, and LinkedIn.

The Chemistry Shorts series is funded in part by the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation.