Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

First nanoscale image of soil reveals an 'incredible' variety

30.04.2008
A handful of soil is a lot like a banana, strawberry and apple smoothie: Blended all together, it is hard to tell what's in there, especially if you have never tasted the fruits before.

But when you look at soil's organic carbon closely, it has an incredible variety of known compounds. And looking closely is exactly what Cornell researchers have done for the first time -- at a scale of 50 nanometers (1 nanometer equals the width of three silicon atoms). Until now, handfuls of soil humus (or the organic component of soil, formed by the decomposition of leaves and other plant material by soil microorganisms) looked remarkably similar.

According to a study published in the April issue of Nature Geoscience, knowing the structure and detailed composition of soil carbon could provide a better understanding of the chemical processes that cycle organic matter in soil. For example, the research may help scientists understand what happens when materials in the soil get wet, warm or cool and how soils sequester carbon, which has implications for climate change.

"There is this incredible nanoscale heterogeneity of organic matter in terms of soil," said Johannes Lehmann, a Cornell associate professor of crop and soil sciences and lead author of the study. "None of these compounds that you can see on a nanoscale level looks anything close to the sum of the entire organic matter."

The soil measurements (actually, images produced by a highly focused X-ray beam) were made at the National Synchrotron Light Source at Brookhaven National Laboratory using an X-ray spectromicroscopy method developed by physicists at the State University of New York, Stony Brook. The method allowed the researchers to identify forms of organic carbon in the samples.

While the composition of organic carbon in soils from North America, Panama, Brazil, Kenya or New Zealand proved remarkably similar within each sample, the researchers found that within spaces separated by mere micrometers, soils from any of these locations showed striking variation in their compositions. For example, the compounds that "hang on the right and left of a clay mineral may be completely different," said Lehmann.

The researchers were also able to identify the origins of some of the nano-sized compounds, determining that some of them, for example, were microbe excretions and decomposed leaves.

The researchers also recognized patterns of where types of compounds are likely to be found at the nanoscale.

"Now we can start locating certain compounds," Lehmann said. "We find black carbon as distinct particles in pores, whereas we find microbial products smeared around surfaces of minerals."

The method now allows researchers to break soil down, separate compounds, conduct experiments on individual compounds and better understand the interactions, Lehmann said.

The research was funded by the National Science Foundation.

Blaine Friedlander | EurekAlert!
Further information:
http://www.cornell.edu

More articles from Earth Sciences:

nachricht Research icebreaker Polarstern begins the Antarctic season
09.11.2018 | Alfred-Wegener-Institut, Helmholtz-Zentrum für Polar- und Meeresforschung

nachricht Far fewer lakes below the East Antarctic Ice Sheet than previously believed
08.11.2018 | Alfred-Wegener-Institut, Helmholtz-Zentrum für Polar- und Meeresforschung

All articles from Earth Sciences >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

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

Im Focus: A Leap Into Quantum Technology

Faster and secure data communication: This is the goal of a new joint project involving physicists from the University of Würzburg. The German Federal Ministry of Education and Research funds the project with 14.8 million euro.

In our digital world data security and secure communication are becoming more and more important. Quantum communication is a promising approach to achieve...

Im Focus: Research icebreaker Polarstern begins the Antarctic season

What does it look like below the ice shelf of the calved massive iceberg A68?

On Saturday, 10 November 2018, the research icebreaker Polarstern will leave its homeport of Bremerhaven, bound for Cape Town, South Africa.

Im Focus: Penn engineers develop ultrathin, ultralight 'nanocardboard'

When choosing materials to make something, trade-offs need to be made between a host of properties, such as thickness, stiffness and weight. Depending on the application in question, finding just the right balance is the difference between success and failure

Now, a team of Penn Engineers has demonstrated a new material they call "nanocardboard," an ultrathin equivalent of corrugated paper cardboard. A square...

Im Focus: Coping with errors in the quantum age

Physicists at ETH Zurich demonstrate how errors that occur during the manipulation of quantum system can be monitored and corrected on the fly

The field of quantum computation has seen tremendous progress in recent years. Bit by bit, quantum devices start to challenge conventional computers, at least...

Im Focus: Nanorobots propel through the eye

Scientists developed specially coated nanometer-sized vehicles that can be actively moved through dense tissue like the vitreous of the eye. So far, the transport of nano-vehicles has only been demonstrated in model systems or biological fluids, but not in real tissue. The work was published in the journal Science Advances and constitutes one step further towards nanorobots becoming minimally-invasive tools for precisely delivering medicine to where it is needed.

Researchers of the “Micro, Nano and Molecular Systems” Lab at the Max Planck Institute for Intelligent Systems in Stuttgart, together with an international...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

VideoLinks
Industry & Economy
Event News

“3rd Conference on Laser Polishing – LaP 2018” Attracts International Experts and Users

09.11.2018 | Event News

On the brain’s ability to find the right direction

06.11.2018 | Event News

European Space Talks: Weltraumschrott – eine Gefahr für die Gesellschaft?

23.10.2018 | Event News

 
Latest News

In focus: Peptides, the “little brothers and sisters” of proteins

12.11.2018 | Life Sciences

Materials scientist creates fabric alternative to batteries for wearable devices

12.11.2018 | Materials Sciences

A two-atom quantum duet

12.11.2018 | Physics and Astronomy

VideoLinks
Science & Research
Overview of more VideoLinks >>>