Spring has sprung in Possum Valley as the daffodils are blooming and the days lengthen one by one. Monday is here one more time and the opportunity for science talk is here again. Time to brighten your day with selections from science sites around the globe. New discoveries, new takes on old knowledge, and other bits of news are all available for the perusing in today's information world. Today's tidbits include a new efficient solar water splitting catalyst, extinction patterns in bird fossils could help today's conservation eforts, a possible more sustainable and cheaper route to chemical production, and quasars teamed up to heat helium gas and prevent small galaxy formation in the early universe.
Pull up that comfy chair and grab a spot near the window. There is always plenty of room for everyone. Another session of Dr. Possum's science education, entertainment, and potluck discussion is set to begin.
The capture of sunlight to split water into atoms and produce hydrogen fuel is an ongoing project now possibly made better by new catalysts.
"When you want to pull the protons off a water molecule to make hydrogen gas for fuel, you also have to take the leftover oxygen atoms and make oxygen gas out of them," (researcher) Boettcher said. "It turns out that the slowest, hardest, most-energy-consuming step in the water-splitting process is actually the oxygen-making step. We've been studying catalysts for making oxygen. Specifically, we're seeking catalysts that reduce the amount of energy it takes in this step and that don't use expensive precious metals."Study of past bird extinction patterns may help today's planning for conservation efforts.
The iron-nickel oxides, he said, have higher catalytic activity than the precious-metal-based catalytic materials that have been thought to be the best for the job.
"What we found is that when we take nickel oxide films that start out as a crystalline material with the rock-salt structure like table salt, they absorb iron impurities and spontaneously convert into materials with a layered structure during the catalysis process," Boettcher said.
The research provides range and dispersal patterns from A.D. 600 to 1600 that may be used to create conservation plans for tropical mountainous regions, some of the most threatened habitats worldwide. Understanding what caused recent extinctions – whether direct habitat loss or introduction of invasive species — helps researchers predict future ecological impacts.Chemical companies produce billions of tons of acrylate each year mostly by heating petroleum products. A new advance may lead to cheaper and more sustainable ways of producing the chemical.
Researchers radiocarbon-dated six individual bones from the extinct woodcock to determine the site’s age. Because the locality also includes fossils of frogs, lizards, snakes, bats and rodents, in addition to the Common Barn Owl and Ashy-faced Owl, it was likely a roost where owls deposited boney pellets of their prey, scientists said.
Of the present-day species found at the site, as many as one-third are considered threatened today and four of the 23 total species are no longer found in the area. Their predominant habitat was pine forests, which are mostly disturbed today or entirely cut down for agriculture. The Least Pauraque, a type of nightjar, is now an endangered species that lives in an extremely localized area.
Since the 1980s researchers have been looking into the possibility of making acrylate by combining carbon dioxide with a gas called ethylene in the presence of nickel and other metal catalysts. CO2 is essentially free and something the planet currently has in overabundance. Ethylene is cheaper than propylene and can be made from plant biomass.Now the wait for application on a large scale begins.
There has been a persistent obstacle to the approach, however. Instead of forming the acrylate molecule, CO2 and ethylene tend to form a precursor molecule with a five-membered ring made of oxygen, nickel, and three carbon atoms. In order to finish the conversion to acrylate, that ring needs to be cracked open to allow the formation of a carbon-carbon double bond, a process called elimination.
That step had proved elusive. But the research by Bernskoetter and his colleagues, published in the journal Organometallics, shows that a class of chemicals called Lewis acids can easily break open that five-membered ring, allowing the molecule to eliminate and form acrylate.
The formation of the early universe was altered by 'sideline quasars' which teamed up with a larger quasar to heat helium gas and prevent small galaxy formation.
During a time known as the “helium reionization era” some 11 billion years ago, blasts of ionizing radiation from black holes believed to be seated in the cores of quasars stripped electrons from primeval helium atoms, said (researcher) Shull. The initial ionization that charged up the helium gas in the universe is thought to have occurred sometime shortly after the Big Bang.
“We think ‘sideline quasars’ located out of the telescope’s view reionized intergalactic helium gas from different directions, preventing it from gravitationally collapsing and forming new generations of stars,” he said. Shull likened the early universe to a hunk of Swiss cheese, where quasars cleared out zones of neutral helium gas in the intergalactic medium that were then “pierced” by UV observations from the space telescope.
Knucklehead's Photo of the Week
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Other Worthy Stories of the Week
Lasers built out of sound called phasers
Reproduction in zero gravity
Some primitive birds had four wings, not two
New map made of the first trillionth of a trillionth of a second after the Big Bang
Communities of bacteria in the world's deepest ocean trench
Black hole-star pair orbiting at dizzying speed
Herschel discovers some of the youngest stars ever seen
Antarctic and Arctic insects use different genetic mechanisms to cope with lack of water
Ancient hunter-gatherer DNA challenges early out of Africa migrations
How organic magnets grow in a thin film
Two new species of woodlizard in Peru
Why red algae never colonized dry land
For even more science news:
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BBC News Science and Environment
Eureka Science News
All-GeoGeology and Earth science
Cantauri Dreams space exploration
Deep Sea News marine biology
List of Geoscience Blogs
Tetrapod Zoology vertebrate paleontology
Science RSS Feed: Medworm
The Skeptics Guide to the Universe--a combination of hard science and debunking crap