Researchers watch electrons as molecules change shape

October 31 2008 / by Garry Golden / In association with Future
Category: Energy   Year: Beyond   Rating: 1

What happened?
Research teams from the University of Colorado at Boulder and the Canada’s Steacie Institute for Molecular Sciences have watched electrons rearrange themselves as molecules changes shape like a Slinky. The team shot a laser across a molecule of dinitrogen tetraoxide, or N2O4, to map the electron energy levels of the molecule as it changed shape.

Why is this important to the future of energy?
Advanced energy systems depend on our ability to understand how electrons rearrange themselves during chemical reactions. To trigger specific chemical reactions involved in producing energy, cleaning up hydrocarbons, and making materials with less energy we need to know how bonds are formed and broken between atoms.

“The Holy Grail in molecular sciences would be to be able to look at all aspects of a chemical reaction and to see how atoms are moving and how electrons are rearranging themselves as this happens,” researcher Margaret Murnane. “We’re not there yet, but this is a big step toward that goal.”

Why is it difficult? Changes in electron clouds happen on timescales of less than a femtosecond, or one quadrillionth of a second, representing some of the fastest processes in the natural world.

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Reports Highlight Role of Basic Energy Science, Not 'Buying Green', As Key Enabler of Change

March 07 2009 / by Garry Golden / In association with Future
Category: Education   Year: General   Rating: 1

Basic Energy Science

All over the web, new 'green-themed' eco blogs are sprouting up like mushrooms with low impact solutions for affluent consumers.

So many new sites and products, yet there is no way to 'buy' ourselves into a 'green economy'.

Organic yoga mats, reusable water bottles, 'green weddings', telecommuting, hybrids and EVs, carbon neutral rock concerts, (et al) are all perfectly legitimate steps forward. But they do little to solve long-term problems, and they fall helplessly short of really educating people about the tremendous challenges ahead with energy.

Our strategy should not be to make consumers more 'green', but to make sure people know that we cannot 'buy' our way into sustainability.

The message that should really be pushed on the web, is that the energy systems that could actually change the world do not currently exist today.   And that they will only emerge from advances in basic energy sciences that destroy all our current notions of what is technically possible today with regards to how we produce, store, transmit and deliver energy.

So please, no more new 'eco' blogs! Let's focus on people's minds, not wallets.

We need to learn, not buy, our way into a sustainable economy.  And the learning starts with asking questions that are beyond our current energy knowledge base.  Let's empower scientists, not marketing agencies to ask the right questions about 'going green'.

The good news is that researchers now know, what we don't know!

Basic Energy Science Reports
The Office of US Basic Energy Science has spent the past five years engaging scientist around the world in a conversation about 'what we do not know about energy systems'.  What new knowledge about molecules and electrons could enable new solutions? 

Rather than seek quick fixes that fail, the program attempted to outline the Grand Challenges of energy systems that are beyond our current notions of what is technically possible. 

Their conclusion?  What we currently 'have' and 'know' about energy is not enough.  [PDF]

"The magnitude of the challenge is so immense that existing energy approaches—even with improvements from advanced engineering and improved technology based on known concepts—will not be enough to secure our energy future.  Instead, meeting the challenge will require new technologies for producing, storing and using energy with performance levels far beyond what is now possible."

The Summary findings and Full reports can be found here.

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