Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

The quantum secret to alcohol reactions in space

01.07.2013
Chemists have discovered that an 'impossible' reaction at cold temperatures actually occurs with vigour, which could change our understanding of how alcohols are formed and destroyed in space.
To explain the impossible, the researchers propose that a quantum mechanical phenomenon, known as 'quantum tunnelling', is revving up the chemical reaction. They found that the rate at which the reaction occurs is 50 times greater at minus 210 degrees Celsius than at room temperature.

It's the harsh environment that makes space-based chemistry so difficult to understand; the extremely cold conditions should put a stop to chemical reactions, as there isn't sufficient energy to rearrange chemical bonds. It has previously been suggested that dust grains -- found in interstellar clouds, for example -- could lend a hand in bringing chemical reactions about.

The idea is that the dust grains act as a staging post for the reactions to occur, with the ingredients of complex molecules clinging to the solid surface. However, last year, a highly reactive molecule called the 'methoxy radical' was detected in space and its formation couldn't be explained in this way.
Laboratory experiments showed that when an icy mixture containing methanol was blasted with radiation -- like would occur in space, with intense radiation from nearby stars, for example –methoxy radicals weren't released in the emitted gases. The findings suggested that methanol gas was involved in the production of the methoxy radicals found in space, rather than any process on the surface of dust grains. But this brings us back to the problem of how the gases can react under extremely cold conditions.

"The answer lies in quantum mechanics," says Professor Dwayne Heard, Head of the School of Chemistry at the University of Leeds, who led the research.
"Chemical reactions get slower as temperatures decrease, as there is less energy to get over the 'reaction barrier'. But quantum mechanics tells us that it is possible to cheat and dig through this barrier instead of going over it. This is called 'quantum tunnelling'."

To succeed in digging through the reaction barrier, incredibly cold temperatures -- like those that exist in interstellar space and in the atmosphere of some planetary bodies, such as Titan -- are needed. "We suggest that an 'intermediary product' forms in the first stage of the reaction, which can only survive long enough for quantum tunnelling to occur at extremely cold temperatures," says Heard.

The researchers were able to recreate the cold environment of space in the laboratory and observe a reaction of the alcohol methanol and an oxidising chemical called the 'hydroxyl radical' at minus 210 degrees Celsius. They found that not only do these gases react to create methoxy radicals at this incredibly cold temperature, but that the rate of reaction is 50 times faster than at room temperature.

To achieve this, the researchers had to create a new experimental setup. "The problem is that the gases condense as soon as they hit a cold surface," says Robin Shannon from the University of Leeds, who performed the experiments. "So we took inspiration from the boosters used for the Apollo Saturn V rockets to create collimated jets of gas that could react without ever touching a surface."

The researchers are now investigating the reactions of other alcohols at very cold temperatures. "If our results continue to show a similar increase in the reaction rate at very cold temperatures, then scientists have been severely underestimating the rates of formation and destruction of complex molecules, such as alcohols, in space," concludes Heard.

The findings are published in the journal Nature Chemistry on 30 June 2013.

Further information:

Professor Dwayne Heard is available for interview. Please contact Sarah Reed, Press Officer, University of Leeds, on 0113 34 34196 or email s.j.reed@leeds.ac.uk

Sarah Reed | EurekAlert!
Further information:
http://www.leeds.ac.uk

More articles from Life Sciences:

nachricht Closing the carbon loop
08.12.2016 | University of Pittsburgh

nachricht Newly discovered bacteria-binding protein in the intestine
08.12.2016 | University of Gothenburg

All articles from Life Sciences >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Significantly more productivity in USP lasers

In recent years, lasers with ultrashort pulses (USP) down to the femtosecond range have become established on an industrial scale. They could advance some applications with the much-lauded “cold ablation” – if that meant they would then achieve more throughput. A new generation of process engineering that will address this issue in particular will be discussed at the “4th UKP Workshop – Ultrafast Laser Technology” in April 2017.

Even back in the 1990s, scientists were comparing materials processing with nanosecond, picosecond and femtosesecond pulses. The result was surprising:...

Im Focus: Shape matters when light meets atom

Mapping the interaction of a single atom with a single photon may inform design of quantum devices

Have you ever wondered how you see the world? Vision is about photons of light, which are packets of energy, interacting with the atoms or molecules in what...

Im Focus: Novel silicon etching technique crafts 3-D gradient refractive index micro-optics

A multi-institutional research collaboration has created a novel approach for fabricating three-dimensional micro-optics through the shape-defined formation of porous silicon (PSi), with broad impacts in integrated optoelectronics, imaging, and photovoltaics.

Working with colleagues at Stanford and The Dow Chemical Company, researchers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign fabricated 3-D birefringent...

Im Focus: Quantum Particles Form Droplets

In experiments with magnetic atoms conducted at extremely low temperatures, scientists have demonstrated a unique phase of matter: The atoms form a new type of quantum liquid or quantum droplet state. These so called quantum droplets may preserve their form in absence of external confinement because of quantum effects. The joint team of experimental physicists from Innsbruck and theoretical physicists from Hannover report on their findings in the journal Physical Review X.

“Our Quantum droplets are in the gas phase but they still drop like a rock,” explains experimental physicist Francesca Ferlaino when talking about the...

Im Focus: MADMAX: Max Planck Institute for Physics takes up axion research

The Max Planck Institute for Physics (MPP) is opening up a new research field. A workshop from November 21 - 22, 2016 will mark the start of activities for an innovative axion experiment. Axions are still only purely hypothetical particles. Their detection could solve two fundamental problems in particle physics: What dark matter consists of and why it has not yet been possible to directly observe a CP violation for the strong interaction.

The “MADMAX” project is the MPP’s commitment to axion research. Axions are so far only a theoretical prediction and are difficult to detect: on the one hand,...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

ICTM Conference 2017: Production technology for turbomachine manufacturing of the future

16.11.2016 | Event News

Innovation Day Laser Technology – Laser Additive Manufacturing

01.11.2016 | Event News

#IC2S2: When Social Science meets Computer Science - GESIS will host the IC2S2 conference 2017

14.10.2016 | Event News

 
Latest News

Closing the carbon loop

08.12.2016 | Life Sciences

Applicability of dynamic facilitation theory to binary hard disk systems

08.12.2016 | Physics and Astronomy

Scientists track chemical and structural evolution of catalytic nanoparticles in 3-D

08.12.2016 | Materials Sciences

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>