It's the unusual chemistry facilitated by this molecule, however, that will attract the most attention from scientists.
Marsha Lester, the University of Pennsylvania's Edmund J. Kahn Distinguished Professor, and Joseph Francisco, William E. Moore Distinguished Professor of Chemistry at Purdue University, found the molecule, which had puzzled and eluded scientists for more than 40 years.
A technical paper describing the molecule is published this week in a special edition of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science.
Somewhat like a human body metabolizing food, the Earth's atmosphere has the ability to "burn," or oxidize pollutants, especially nitric oxides emitted from sources such as factories and automobiles. What doesn't get oxidized in the atmosphere falls back to Earth in the form of acid rain.
"The chemical details of how the atmosphere removes nitric acid have not been clear," Francisco says. "This gives us important insights into this process. Without that knowledge we really can't understand the conditions under which nitric acid is removed from the atmosphere."
Francisco says the discovery will allow scientists to better model how pollutants react in the atmosphere and to predict potential outcomes.
"This becomes important in emerging industrial nations such as China, India and Brazil where there are automobiles and factories that are unregulated," Francisco says. "This chemistry will give us insight into the extent that acid rain will be a future concern."
Lester says the molecule had been theorized by atmospheric chemists for 40 years and that she and Francisco had pursued it for the past several years.
"We've speculated about this unusual atmospheric species for many years, and then to actually see it and learn about its properties was very exciting," she says.
What makes the molecule so unusual is its two hydrogen bonds, which are similar to those found in water.
Chemists know that although water is one of the most common substances found on the planet, it has unusual properties. For example, the solid form - ice - is lighter than the liquid form and floats. Water also boils at a much higher temperature than would be expected from its chemical structure.
The cause of these strange behaviors are weak hydrogen bonds that hold water molecules together.
The new atmospheric molecule has two hydrogen bonds, which allows it to form a six-sided ring structure. Hydrogen bonds are usually weaker than the normal bonds between atoms in a molecule, which are known as covalent bonds. In fact, covalent bonds are 20 times stronger than hydrogen bonds. But in this case, these two hydrogen bonds are strong enough to affect atmospheric chemistry, Francisco says.
Lester says the new molecule exhibits its own unusual properties.
"The reaction involving this molecule proceeds faster as you go to lower temperatures, which is the opposite of most chemical reactions," she says. "The rate of reaction also changes depending on the atmospheric pressure, and most reactions don't depend on external pressure. The molecule also exhibits unusual quantum properties."
Lester says the unusual properties prevented scientists from being able to model the reaction for so long.
"This is not how we explain chemistry to high school students," she says.
Francisco says that this discovery will be used in areas other than atmospheric chemistry.
"Here's a situation where we were studying this purely environmental problem, but, because the findings are so fundamental, it may have broader ramifications to biological systems that depend on hydrogen bonds," he says.
The breakthrough was enabled by laser-based laboratory techniques at the University of Pennsylvania and the supercomputing resources available at Purdue, Francisco says. The computation was done on an SGI Altix supercomputer operated by the Office of Information Technology at Purdue.
"The key is knowing where to look and how to identify new chemical entities, and with the computing resources we have at Purdue we can help identify processes to within experimental uncertainty," he says. "We couldn't have done this without the supercomputing power that we have available."Writer: Steve Tally, (765) 494-9809, email@example.com
Steve Tally | EurekAlert!
Treatment of saline wastewater during algae utilization
14.05.2019 | Jacobs University Bremen gGmbH
Plastic gets a do-over: Breakthrough discovery recycles plastic from the inside out
07.05.2019 | DOE/Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory
Engineers at the University of Tokyo continually pioneer new ways to improve battery technology. Professor Atsuo Yamada and his team recently developed a...
With a quantum coprocessor in the cloud, physicists from Innsbruck, Austria, open the door to the simulation of previously unsolvable problems in chemistry, materials research or high-energy physics. The research groups led by Rainer Blatt and Peter Zoller report in the journal Nature how they simulated particle physics phenomena on 20 quantum bits and how the quantum simulator self-verified the result for the first time.
Many scientists are currently working on investigating how quantum advantage can be exploited on hardware already available today. Three years ago, physicists...
'Quantum technologies' utilise the unique phenomena of quantum superposition and entanglement to encode and process information, with potentially profound benefits to a wide range of information technologies from communications to sensing and computing.
However a major challenge in developing these technologies is that the quantum phenomena are very fragile, and only a handful of physical systems have been...
Working group led by physicist Professor Ulrich Nowak at the University of Konstanz, in collaboration with a team of physicists from Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz, demonstrates how skyrmions can be used for the computer concepts of the future
When it comes to performing a calculation destined to arrive at an exact result, humans are hopelessly inferior to the computer. In other areas, humans are...
Scientists develop a molecular recording tool that enables in vivo lineage tracing of embryonic cells
The beginning of new life starts with a fascinating process: A single cell gives rise to progenitor cells that eventually differentiate into the three germ...
29.04.2019 | Event News
17.04.2019 | Event News
15.04.2019 | Event News
22.05.2019 | Life Sciences
22.05.2019 | Life Sciences
22.05.2019 | Physics and Astronomy