Tag Archives: carbon

Complex Organic Molecules Discovered in Infant Star System

The new discovery hints that the building blocks of the chemistry of life are universal.

For the first time, astronomers have detected the presence of complex organic molecules, the building blocks of life, in a protoplanetary disc surrounding a young star. The discovery, made with the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA), reaffirms that the conditions that spawned the Earth and Sun are not unique in the Universe. The results are published in the 9 April 2015 issue of the journal Nature.

Artist impression of the protoplanetary disc surrounding the young star MWC 480. ALMA has detected the complex organic molecule methyl cyanide in the outer reaches of the disc in the region where comets are believed to form. This is another indication that complex organic chemistry, and potentially the conditions necessary for life, is universal. Credit: B. Saxton (NRAO/AUI/NSF)
Artist impression of the protoplanetary disc surrounding the young star MWC 480. ALMA has detected the complex organic molecule methyl cyanide in the outer reaches of the disc in the region where comets are believed to form. This is another indication that complex organic chemistry, and potentially the conditions necessary for life, is universal.
B. Saxton (NRAO/AUI/NSF)

The new ALMA observations reveal that the protoplanetary disc surrounding the young star MWC 480 [1] contains large amounts of methyl cyanide (CH3CN), a complex carbon-based molecule. There is enough methyl cyanide around MWC 480 to fill all of Earth’s oceans.

Both this molecule and its simpler cousin hydrogen cyanide (HCN) were found in the cold outer reaches of the star’s newly formed disc, in a region that astronomers believe is analogous to the Kuiper Belt — the realm of icy planetesimals and comets in our own Solar System beyond Neptune.

Comets retain a pristine record of the early chemistry of the Solar System, from the period of planet formation. Comets and asteroids from the outer Solar System are thought to have seeded the young Earth with water and organic molecules, helping set the stage for the development of primordial life.

“Studies of comets and asteroids show that the solar nebula that spawned the Sun and planets was rich in water and complex organic compounds,” noted Karin Öberg, an astronomer with the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics in Cambridge, Massachusetts, USA, and lead author of the new paper.

“We now have even better evidence that this same chemistry exists elsewhere in the Universe, in regions that could form solar systems not unlike our own.” This is particularly intriguing, Öberg notes, since the molecules found in MWC 480 are also found in similar concentrations in the Solar System’s comets.

The star MWC 480, which is about twice the mass of the Sun, is located 455 light-years away in the Taurus star-forming region. Its surrounding disc is in the very early stages of development — having recently coalesced out of a cold, dark nebula of dust and gas. Studies with ALMA and other telescopes have yet to detect any obvious signs of planet formation in it, although higher resolution observations may reveal structures similar to HL Tauri, which is of a similar age.

Astronomers have known for some time that cold, dark interstellar clouds are very efficient factories for complex organic molecules — including a group of molecules known as cyanides. Cyanides, and most especially methyl cyanide, are important because they contain carbon–nitrogen bonds, which are essential for the formation of amino acids, the foundation of proteins and the building blocks of life.

Until now, it has remained unclear, however, if these same complex organic molecules commonly form and survive in the energetic environment of a newly forming solar system, where shocks and radiation can easily break chemical bonds.

By exploiting ALMA’s remarkable sensitivity [2] astronomers can see from the latest observations that these molecules not only survive, but flourish.

Importantly, the molecules ALMA detected are much more abundant than would be found in interstellar clouds. This tells astronomers that protoplanetary discs are very efficient at forming complex organic molecules and that they are able to form them on relatively short timescales [3].

As this system continues to evolve, astronomers speculate that it’s likely that the organic molecules safely locked away in comets and other icy bodies will be ferried to environments more nurturing to life.

“From the study of exoplanets, we know the Solar System isn’t unique in its number of planets or abundance of water,” concluded Öberg. “Now we know we’re not unique in organic chemistry. Once more, we have learnt that we’re not special. From a life in the Universe point of view, this is great news.”

[1] This star is only about one million years old. By comparison the Sun is more than four billion years old. The name MWC 480 refers to the Mount Wilson Catalog of B and A stars with bright hydrogen lines in their spectra.

[2] ALMA is able to detect the faint millimetre-wavelength radiation that is naturally emitted by molecules in space. For these most recent observations, the astronomers used only a portion of ALMA’s 66 antennas when the telescope was in its lower-resolution configuration. Further studies of this and other protoplanetary discs with ALMA’s full capabilities will reveal additional details about the chemical and structural evolution of stars and planets.

[3] This rapid formation is essential to outpace the forces that would otherwise break the molecules apart. Also, these molecules were detected in a relatively serene part of the disc, roughly 4.5 to 15 billion kilometres from the central star. Though very distant by Solar System standards, in MWC 480’s scaled-up dimensions, this would be squarely in the comet-forming zone.

Source: ESO


KAUST team synthesizes novel metal-organic framework for efficient CO2 removal

By Caitlin Clark

“In Professor Mohamed Eddaoudi’s research group, we are always on the quest to find novel nanostructured functionalized materialsfor specific applications,” explained KAUST Research Scientist Dr. Youssef Belmabkhout, a member of Prof. Eddaoudi’s Functional Materials Design, Discovery, and Development (FMD3) group, part of KAUST’s Advanced Membranes and Porous Materials (AMPM) research center.

Dr. Osama Shekhah, Senior Research Scientist in the FMD3 group added that the group searches “for materials that will be highly suitable for trace and low CO2 concentration removal using purely physical adsorption. These will help in energy saving and in the reduction of the cost of the production, purification, and enrichment of highly valuable commodities such as CH4, H2, O2, N2, and others.”

Drs. Shekhah and Belmabkhout and a team of researchers from Prof. Eddaoudi’s group recently discovered and synthesized a new porous, moisture-resistant, inexpensive and reusable copper-based metal-organic framework (MOF) called SIFSIX-3-Cu that can selectively adsorb and remove trace CO2 from mixtures of various gases. Their findings were published in the June 25 edition of Nature Communications (DOI: 10.1038/ncomms5228).

MOFs are a promising new class of hybrid solid-state materials for CO2 removal. “Their uniqueness,” explained Prof. Eddaoudi, “resides in the ability to control their assembly and introduce functionality on demand. This feature is not readily available in other solid-state materials.”

The researchers showed for the first time that MOF crystal chemistry permits the assembly of a new isostructural hexafluorosilicate MOF (SIFSIX-3-Cu) based on copper instead of zinc.

“This technology is anticipated to outperform the existing mature technologies for CO2 physical adsorption in terms of energy efficiency,” says Dr. Shekhah. “The key factors for this finding are the combination of suitable pore size and high, uniform charge density in the pores of the MOF.”

Using their newly synthesized MOF, the researchers examined the conditions relevant to direct air capture (DAC), a mechanism to remove CO2 from air and reduce greenhouse gas emissions uniformly around the world.

DAC is more challenging than post-combustion capture, but it may be practical if alternative “suitable adsorbent combining optimum uptake, kinetics, energetics and CO2 selectivity is available at trace CO2 concentration,” the researchers stated.

The team discovered that contracting SIFSIX-3-Cu’s pore system to 3.5 Å enhanced the material’s efficiency, making it able to adsorb relatively large CO2 amounts 10-15 times higher than zinc-based metal-organic adsorbents, such as SIFSIX-3-Zn. In SIFSIX-3-Zn, the pore size is 3.84 Å.

“We attribute this property to enhanced physical sorption through the favorable electrostatic interactions between CO2 molecules and fluorine atoms present on the surface of the adsorbent,” explained Zhijie Chen, a Ph.D. student in the FMD3 group and a co-author of the paper.

Dr. Vincent Guillerm, a post-doctoral fellow in the FMD3 group and a co-author of the paper also noted that, “the pore contraction gives CO2 uptake and selectivity at very low partial pressures. This is relevant to DAC and trace carbon dioxide removal.”

“SIFSIX-3-Cu gives enhanced CO2 physical adsorption properties, uptake, and selectivity in highly diluted gas streams, and this performance is unachievable with other classes of porous materials,” added Dr. Karim Adil, a co-author of the paper and Research Scientist in the FMD3 group.

The researchers are excited about their finding as it offers the potential to be used not only for DAC but also for other applications related to energy, the environment, and the healthcare field. For example, SIFSIX-3-Cu could be used to remove and recycle CO2 in confined spaces, such as in submarines or space shuttles, and could also be used in anesthesia machines, which require efficient CO2 sorbents.

“Our work paves the way for scientists to develop new separation agents suitable for challenging endeavor pertaining to CO2 ultra-purification processing,” said Dr. Shekhah. “Our study is also part of a greater critical effort to develop economical and practical pathways to reduce cumulative CO2 emissions provoking the undesirable greenhouse gas effect.”

Prof. Eddaoudi reiterated that “MOFs offer remarkable CO2 physical adsorption attributes in highly diluted gas streams thanks to their ability for rational pore size modification and inorganic-organics moieties substitution. Other classes of plain materials are unable to attain this.”

In the future, Prof. Eddaoudi’s FMD3 group will continue to develop topologically and chemically different MOFs. “We aim to target novel MOFs with suitable pore size and high charge density,” explained Prof. Eddaoudi. “We will then use these for the important task of removing trace and low and high concentration CO2.”

Source: KAUST


Time to move to a post-carbon world: ANU VC Professor Ian Young responds to criticism over divestments

Australian National University’s decision to divest from some companies due to concerns mainly related to environment or carbon pollution. The decision has sparked fury from some business and political interest groups.

Responding to the allegations, Professor Ian Young wrote on ANU’s website and The Sydney Morning Herald.

According to Mr. Young :

Just over a week ago, The Australian National University decided to sell shares worth approximately $16 million in seven companies, representing just one per cent of our investment portfolio, and a fraction of the market worth of the companies involved, which has sparked an extraordinary reaction.

From one side it has been attacked by elements of industry, media and some political figures as reckless, cowardly, superficial, anti-business, poorly conceived and as destroying jobs.

On the other side, my email account has melted down with emails of support, congratulating the University on its action, and the University’s Facebook page is awash with positive comments.

The reason for this extraordinary response is because the ANU decision is seen as another domino in the divestment-movement effect, involving individuals and institutions deciding to sell their holdings in fossil fuel-producing companies.

He further said:

There has been growing sentiment from our community to not just get a good financial return from our investments but also to invest in companies which would have activities consistent with the goals of the University, and do not manifestly cause social harm. For instance, the University for many years has not, and would not now, invest in tobacco

The initial calls were to divest from all fossil fuels. This is difficult in Australia, as many of our companies are diversified. They may produce coal, oil or gas but they also do many other things. And given the world’s necessary dependence on such fuels for a long time to come, the ethical issues involved are complex. To address these issues ANU established a socially responsible investment policy.

Not only Mr. Young conveyed his view point on the criticism but also provided a broad picture about the debate:

The real debate for Australia should be about jobs in a carbon-constrained world. What will our industries be in 20 or 30 years’ time? I am confident they will not be in producing fossil fuels. Australia should not be an adopter of alternative energy, we should be a producer.

The real debate in climate should be about producing cost-effective alternative energy. Sticking our collective heads in the sand and ignoring a changing world will ensure we do destroy jobs. Universities like the ANU should be the powerhouses to produce the new technologies for such a world.

The key here is for the various parties not to go to their collective corners and throw stones, but rather for us to work together and use the window of transition to ensure Australia is a technological leader in the post-carbon world.

In an email to Alumni, The ANU VC also urged former students to take part in the debate and give their views:

Dear student

As you may be aware, last week the University Council decided to sell a relatively small number of shares in seven companies. The decision has sparked an extraordinary reaction. I’ve written about the matter in an Op Ed published today.

ANU invests for the betterment of its community – students, staff and researchers. The returns on these investments fund scholarships, staff salaries, research projects and new infrastructure. The University has a responsibility to invest wisely but also in a manner consistent with the desires of our stakeholder students, alumni and staff.

To this end, the decision to divest was made after a review commissioned as part of our Socially Responsible Investment Policy. The review was undertaken by the independent Centre for Australian Ethical Research (CAER) and provided Environmental, Social and Governance Ratings on ANU-held domestic stocks. Using an internationally recognised methodology, our investments were assessed against environmental, social and governance criteria.

The ANU community – staff, students and alumni – has been very engaged in the debate about divestment. As the national university, we have a role to play in national and global debates of this kind.

As always, I welcome your views.

Professor Ian Young AO

The main post is available on ANU website link: http://vcdesk.anu.edu.au/2014/10/13/time-to-move-to-a-post-carbon-world/#comment-8291

Source: ANU