Posts Tagged ‘Chemistry’

Physics came first and then came chemistry and later biology

August 19, 2015

I generally take it that there are only 3 basic sciences, physics, chemistry and biology. I take logic to be the philosophical framework and the background for the observation of the universe. Mathematics is then not a science but a language by which the observations of the universe can be addressed. All other sciences are combinations or derivatives of the three basic sciences. Geology, astronomy, cosmology, psychology, sociology, archaeology, and all the rest derive from the basic three.

I was listening to a report today about some Japanese researchers  who generated protein building blocks by recreating impacts by comets containing water, amino acids and silicate. Some of the amino acids linked together to form peptides (chained molecules). Recurring lengths of peptide chains form proteins and that leads to life. What interested me though was the element of time.

Clearly “chemistry” had to exist before “biology” came into existence. Chemistry therefore not only comes first and “higher” in the hierarchy of the existence of things but is also a necessary, but insufficient, requirement for “biology” to exist. Chemistry plus some “spark” led to biology. In that case the basic sciences are reduced to two since biology derives from chemistry. I cannot conceive of biology preceding chemistry. The elements and atoms and molecules of chemistry had to exist before the “spark” of something brough biology into existence.

chemical reactions (chemistry) + “spark of life”(physics?) = biology

By the same token, does physics precede chemistry? I think it must. Without the universe existing (physics) and all the elements existing within it (which is also physics) and without all the forces acting upon the elements (still physics), there would be no chemistry to exist. Or perhaps the Big Bang was physics and the creation of the elements itself was chemistry? But considering that nuclear reactions (fusion or fission) and the creation of new elements are usually considered physics, it would seem that the existence of physics preceded the existence of chemistry. The mere existence of elements would be insufficient to set in motion reactions between the elements. Some other forces are necessary for that (though some of these forces are even necessary for the existence of the elements). Perhaps physics gives the fundamental particles (whatever they are) and then chemistry begins with the formation of elements? Whether chemistry starts with elements or with the fundamental particles, physics not only must rank higher as a science, it must have come first. Particles must first exist before they can react with each other.

Particles (physics) + forces (physics) = chemistry.

In any event, and by whatever route I follow, physics preceded chemistry, and physics must exist first for chemistry to come into being. That makes chemistry a derivative of physics as biology is a derivative of chemistry.

We are left with just one fundamental science – physics.

by elfbrazil wikipedia


Svante Pääbo an outsider for the Chemistry Nobel today

October 9, 2013

I leave it to real Chemists – such as here – to make predictions. And one can always fall-back on Thomson Reuters who correctly predicted the Physics prize yesterday:


A. Paul Alivisatos  and Chad A. Mirkin and Nadrian C. Seeman
For contributions to DNA nanotechnology

Bruce N. Ames
For the invention of the Ames test of mutagenicity

M.G. Finn and Valery V. Fokin and K. Barry Sharpless
For the development of modular click chemistry

But based on a throw-away comment by somebody on Swedish Radio this morning and based on my interest in paleo-anthropology, Svante Pääbo may be an outside bet. He is a participant in Nobel Week in December and this bio is from there:

Svante Pääbo

A Swedish biologist specializing in evolutionary genetics, Dr Svante Pääbo investigates ways that the archaic genome can be explored to understand our own history better.

Svante Pääbo has developed technical approaches that allow DNA sequences from extinct creatures such as mammoths, ground sloths and Neandertals to be determined. He also works on the comparative genomics of humans, extinct hominins and apes, particularly the evolution of gene activity and genetic changes that may underlie aspects of traits specific to humans such as speech and language.

In 2010, his group determined the first Neandertal genome sequence and described Denisovans, a sister group of Neandertals, based on a genome sequence determined from a small bone found inSiberia.

Pääbo has received four honorary doctorates and several scientific prizes and is a member of numerous academies. He is currently a Director at the Max-Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany, and a Guest Professor at the University of Uppsala, Sweden.

Water in the Earth’s interior

March 14, 2013

Phase diagram for water substance. image –

Water at supercritical conditions is a strange beast and has some remarkable chemistry. It is a fluid with properties that are a blend of gas and liquid properties. Steam at supercritical conditions (around 220 – 250 bar and about 600 °C)  is in common use in large power plants since it can be expanded in steam turbines for power generation. It has gas-like properties such that – as an Oxygen carrier – it could even support combustion/oxidation processes. It has liquid like properties and can be used as a solvent.

It would seem that if water is contained in the interior of the earth’s crust it could be at pressures above 22 MPa (220 bar) and temperatures above 374°C, beyond the critical point, and its properties as a very aggressive solvent  could be controlling the behavior of magma. So perhaps plate tectonics is all down to water?

I am a little skeptical since I observe – in passing – that the behaviour of supercritical steam does not seem to dissolve away steam turbine blades or casings when used in power generation!

A new paper on the 

Microscopic structure of water at elevated pressures and temperatures  by C. J. Sahle, C. Sternemann, C. Schmidt, S. Lehtola, S. Jahn, L. Simonelli, S. Huotari, M. Hakala, T. Pylkkanen, A. Nyrow, K. Mende, M. Tolan, K. Hamalainen and M. Wilke.

 Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 2013; DOI: 10.1073/pnas.1220301110

From the press release from the Helmholtz Centre, Potsdam

13.03.2013 | Potsdam: Earth is the only known planet that holds water in massive quantities and in all three phase states. But the earthly, omnipresent compound water has very unusual properties that become particularly evident when subjected to high pressure and high temperatures. In the latest issue of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science (PNAS), a German-Finnish-French team published what happens when water is subjected to pressure and temperature conditions such as those found in the deep Earth. At pressures above 22 MPa and temperatures above 374°C, beyond the critical point, water turns into a very aggressive solvent, a fact that is crucial for the physical chemistry of Earth’s mantle and crust.

“Without water in Earth’s interior there would be no material cycles and no tectonics. But how the water affects processes in the upper mantle and crust is still subject of intense research”, said Dr. Max Wilke from the GFZ German Research Centre for Geosciences, who carried out the experiments along with his colleague Dr. Christian Schmidt and a team from the TU Dortmund. To this end, the research team brought the water to the laboratory. First, the microscopic structure of water as a function of pressure and temperature was studied by means of X-ray Raman scattering. For that purpose, diamond anvil cells of the GFZ were used at the European Synchrotron Radiation Facility ESRF in Grenoble. Inside the cell, a very small sample of water samples was enclosed, heated and brought to high temperatures and pressures. The data analysis was based on molecular dynamics simulations by the GFZ scientist Dr. Sandro Jahn.

“The study shows that the structure of water continuously develops from an ordered, polymerized structure to a disordered, marginally polymerized structure at supercritical conditions,” explains Max Wilke. “The knowledge of these structural properties of water in the deep earth is an important basis for the understanding of chemical distribution processes during metamorphic and magmatic processes.” This study provides an improved estimate of the behavior of water under extreme conditions during geochemical and geological processes. It is believed that the unique properties of supercritical water also control the behavior of magma.

2011 Chemistry Nobel awarded to Prof. Dan Shechtman for the discovery of quasi-crystals

October 5, 2011

The Nobel prize for Chemistry 2011 has been awarded to Prof. Dan Shechtman, Philip Tobias Professor of Materials Science at the Technion for the discovery of quasi-crystals.

Dan Schechtman

Daniel Shechtman, Israeli citizen. Born 1941 in Tel Aviv, Israel. Ph.D. 1972 from Technion – Israel Institute of Technology, Haifa, Israel. Distinguished Professor, The Philip Tobias Chair, Technion – Israel Institute of Technology, Haifa, Israel.

The official press release states:

A remarkable mosaic of atoms

In quasicrystals, we find the fascinating mosaics of the Arabic world reproduced at the level of atoms: regular patterns that never repeat themselves. However, the configuration found in quasicrystals was considered impossible, and Daniel Shechtman had to fight a fierce battle against established science. The Nobel Prize in Chemistry 2011 has fundamentally altered how chemists conceive of solid matter.

On the morning of 8 April 1982, an image counter to the laws of nature appeared in Daniel Shechtman’s electron microscope. In all solid matter, atoms were believed to be packed inside crystals in symmetrical patterns that were repeated periodically over and over again. For scientists, this repetition was required in order to obtain a crystal.

Shechtman’s image, however, showed that the atoms in his crystal were packed in a pattern that could not be repeated. Such a pattern was considered just as impossible as creating a football using only six-cornered polygons, when a sphere needs both five- and six-cornered polygons. His discovery was extremely controversial. In the course of defending his findings, he was asked to leave his research group. However, his battle eventually forced scientists to reconsider their conception of the very nature of matter. 

Aperiodic mosaics, such as those found in the medieval Islamic mosaics of the Alhambra Palace in Spain and the Darb-i Imam Shrine in Iran, have helped scientists understand what quasicrystals look like at the atomic level. In those mosaics, as in quasicrystals, the patterns are regular – they follow mathematical rules – but they never repeat themselves.


Atomic model of an Ag-Al quasicrystal: Wikipedia

When scientists describe Shechtman’s quasicrystals, they use a concept that comes from mathematics and art: the golden ratio. This number had already caught the interest of mathematicians in Ancient Greece, as it often appeared in geometry. In quasicrystals, for instance, the ratio of various distances between atoms is related to the golden mean.

Following Shechtman’s discovery, scientists have produced other kinds of quasicrystals in the lab and discovered naturally occurring quasicrystals in mineral samples from a Russian river. A Swedish company has also found quasicrystals in a certain form of steel, where the crystals reinforce the material like armor. Scientists are currently experimenting with using quasicrystals in different products such as frying pans and diesel engines.

Chemistry Nobel: 102 Nobel Prizes in Chemistry have been awarded since 1901. It was not awarded on eight occasions: in 1916, 1917, 1919, 1924, 1933, 1940, 1941 and 1942. Of 160 Laureates Frederick Sanger was awarded twice and there are 159 individuals (but including only 4 women) who have received the Nobel Prize in Chemistry. All previous winners of the Chemistry Nobel are here. Chemistry was the most important science for Alfred Nobel’s own work. The development of his inventions as well as the industrial processes he employed were based upon chemical knowledge. Chemistry was the second prize area that Nobel mentioned in his will.

In 1901 the very first Nobel Prize in Chemistry was awarded to Jacobus H. van ‘t Hoff for his work on rates of reaction, chemical equilibrium, and osmotic pressure. In more recent years, the Chemistry Laureates have increased our understanding of chemical processes and their molecular basis, and have also contributed to many of the technological advancements we enjoy today.

The award of this year’s Chemistry Nobel has attracted many predictions at ChemBark, Thomsons Reuters, Curious Wavefunction and Interfacial Digressions among others but few (if any) predicted Schectman.

Dan Schectman 0n You-Tube

Chemistry unsettled

December 16, 2010
International Year of Chemistry Logo

Image via Wikipedia

Atomic weights of 10 elements on periodic table about to make an historic change

For the first time in history, a change will be made to the atomic weights of some elements listed on the Periodic table of the chemical elements posted on walls of chemistry classrooms and on the inside covers of chemistry textbooks worldwide.

The new table, outlined in a report released this month, will express atomic weights of 10 elements – hydrogen, lithium, boron, carbon, nitrogen, oxygen, silicon, sulfur, chlorine and thallium – in a new manner that will reflect more accurately how these elements are found in nature.

“For more than a century and a half, many were taught to use standard atomic weights — a single value — found on the inside cover of chemistry textbooks and on the periodic table of the elements. As technology improved, we have discovered that the numbers on our chart are not as static as we have previously believed,” says Dr. Michael Wieser, an associate professor at the University of Calgary, who serves as secretary of the International Union of Pure and Applied Chemistry‘s (IUPAC) Commission on Isotopic Abundances and Atomic Weights. This organization oversees the evaluation and dissemination of atomic-weight values.

Modern analytical techniques can measure the atomic weight of many elements precisely, and these small variations in an element’s atomic weight are important in research and industry. For example, precise measurements of the abundances of isotopes of carbon can be used to determine purity and source of food, such as vanilla and honey. Isotopic measurements of nitrogen, chlorine and other elements are used for tracing pollutants in streams and groundwater. In sports doping investigations, performance-enhancing testosterone can be identified in the human body because the atomic weight of carbon in natural human testosterone is higher than that in pharmaceutical testosterone.

The atomic weights of these 10 elements now will be expressed as intervals, having upper and lower bounds, reflected to more accurately convey this variation in atomic weight. The changes to be made to the Table of Standard Atomic Weights have been published in Pure and Applied Chemistry and a companion article in Chemistry International.

For example, sulfur is commonly known to have a standard atomic weight of 32.065. However, its actual atomic weight can be anywhere between 32.059 and 32.076, depending on where the element is found. “In other words, knowing the atomic weight can be used to decode the origins and the history of a particular element in nature,” says Wieser who co-authored the report.

Elements with only one stable isotope do not exhibit variations in their atomic weights. For example, the standard atomic weights for fluorine, aluminum, sodium and gold are constant, and their values are known to better than six decimal places.

“Though this change offers significant benefits in the understanding of chemistry, one can imagine the challenge now to educators and students who will have to select a single value out of an interval when doing chemistry calculations,” says Dr. Fabienne Meyers, associate director of IUPAC.

Next week is Nobel week: My layman forecasts

October 1, 2010

This week I won a $10 prize in a lottery and my belief in my crystal ball is high (but I ignore the fact that the lottery tickets cost me $30).

Nobel Prize® medal - registered trademark of the Nobel Foundation

Nobel prize medal

Next week is Nobel week and the winners for Medicine will be announced on Monday 4th, for Physics on Tuesday 5th and for Chemistry on Wednesday 6th. I pass over the Literature, Economics and Peace prizes in silence but address my crystal ball as to the areas of research that will be honoured.

Medicine: The 2 areas that spring to mind are stem cells and genetic cancer research. To choose one I go for stem cells with Dr. Yamanaka included in there somewhere.

Physics: The 2 areas I see as most likely are either quantum physics or the expanding universe. To choose one I plump for the universe and Prof. Perlmutter among the recipients.

Chemistry: I am fascinated by new materials and with graphene being the flavour of the decade I choose work related to graphene as being the winner. To name a name it would be just if the first person to discover graphene received recognition and so I hope that Hanns-Peter Boehm is on the list.

In spite of my lottery win, I put the probability of being right on one count at no more than 1%, on two counts at 0.1% and being right on all 3 at 0.01%.

Add your favourites if you have any.

Periodic table gets bigger: Element 114 Ununquadium

June 25, 2010

Element 114 has been made and confirmed in the laboratory but elements 113, 115, 116, 117 and 118 are predicted but still to be made.

Temporary names assigned to elements 113 to 118 are: Ununtrium, Ununquadium, Ununpentium, Ununhexium, Ununseptiumand Ununoctium.

New Scientist: Element 114 on the brink of recognition

The periodic table is set to get bigger, now that three labs have independently made atoms of element 114. There’s still one big uncertainty though – should it be classified as a metal or as a noble gas?

In February 2010, an element with 112 protons in its atomic nucleus was recognised and named Copernicium by the International Union of Pure and Applied Chemistry (IUPAC). A similar honour should shortly be on the way for element 114. Ununquadium is the temporary name with the temporary symbol Uuq and atomic number114.

In 1999, researchers at the Joint Institute for Nuclear Research in Dubna, Russia, claimed to have made atoms of element 114, but no confirmation was available. Now teams at two other laboratories say they have produced it.

One team was led by Heino Nitsche and Ken Gregorich at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory in California. The other was led by Christoph Düllmann at the Centre for Heavy Ion Research (GSI) in Darmstadt, Germany.

Element 114’s likely chemical properties remain in doubt, however. One prediction suggests it is a noble gas, while another indicates it has properties similar to lead.

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