World’s fastest water heater

Scientists explore exotic state of liquid with X-ray laser

Scientists have used a powerful X-ray laser to heat water from room temperature to 100,000 degrees Celsius in less than a tenth of a picosecond (millionth of a millionth of a second). The experimental set-up, that can be seen as the world’s fastest water heater, produced an exotic state of water, from which researchers hope to learn more about the peculiar characteristics of Earth’s most important liquid. The observations also have practical use for the probing biological and many other samples with X-ray lasers. The team of Carl Caleman from the Center for Free-Electron Laser Science (CFEL) at DESY and Uppsala University (Sweden) reports its findings in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS).

The researchers used the X-ray free-electron laser Linac Coherent Light Source LCLS at the SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory in the U.S. to shoot extremely intense and ultra-short flashes of X-rays at a jet of water. “It is certainly not the usual way to boil your water,” said Caleman. “Normally, when you heat water, the molecules will just be shaken stronger and stronger.” On the molecular level, heat is motion – the hotter, the faster the motion of the molecules. This can be achieved, for example, via heat transfer from a stove, or more directly with microwaves that make the water molecules swing back and forth ever faster in step with the electromagnetic field.

> Read more on on the DESY website and on the LCLS website

Image: After about 70 femtoseconds (quadrillionths of a second) most water molecules have already split into hydrogen (white) and oxygen (red).
Credit: Carl Caleman, DESY/Uppsala University

Study suggests water may exist in Earth’s lower mantle

Water on Earth runs deep – very deep. The oceans have been measured to a maximum depth of 7 miles, though water is known to exist well below the oceans. Just how deep this hidden water reaches, and how much of it exists, are the subjects of ongoing research.

Now a new study suggests that water may be more common than expected at extreme depths approaching 400 miles and possibly beyond – within Earth’s lower mantle. The study, which appeared March 8 in the journal Science, explored microscopic pockets of a trapped form of crystallized water molecules in a sampling of diamonds from around the world.

Diamond samples from locations in Africa and China were studied through a variety of techniques, including a method using infrared light at the U.S. Department of Energy’s Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab). Researchers used Berkeley Lab’s Advanced Light Source (ALS), and Argonne National Laboratory’s Advanced Photon Source, which are research centers known as synchrotron facilities.

>Read more on the Advanced Light Source website

Photo: Oliver Tschauner, professor of research in the Department of Geoscience at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, holds a diamond sample during a recent round of experiments at Berkeley Lab’s Advanced Light Source.
Credit: Marilyn Chung/Berkeley Lab

Structure and Catalytic Activity of Copper Nanoparticles

Research investigates the addition of ceria on the activity of catalysts for the water-gas shift reaction

Catalysts are substances that promote and accelerate chemical reactions without being consumed during the process and are widely used in industrial processes to produce various chemicals.

Catalysts based on copper nanoparticles dispersed in an oxide support benefit various reactions, such as the synthesis of methanol, the alcohol dehydrogenation, or the water gas shift (WGS) reaction which is one of the main processes for hydrogen production on an industrial scale. In this reaction, carbon monoxide reacts with water to produce carbon dioxide CO2 and hydrogen gas H2.

>Read more on the LNLS website

Figure 1: Correlation between the bond length of CuO and the catalyst turnover frequency (TOF) for the catalysts analyzed under WGS conditions with different proportions of copper and ceria.


Extraterrestrial Oceans

Exploring the solar system does not need spacecraft

One of the amazing things scientists can do at Diamond is to recreate conditions of other parts of the Universe. Recently they used this remarkable ability to peer into the salty waters hidden underneath kilometres of ice on Enceladus, one of Saturn’s moons.
In September, NASA ended the Cassini mission in spectacular fashion, crashing the spacecraft into Saturn. For twenty years, Cassini brought us closer to our gas giant neighbour and its moons. The probe made astonishing discoveries about one of them: Enceladus. This small moon has plumes of gas erupting from its surface, it has a rocky core covered in a thick layer of ice, and in between lies a deep, salty ocean. It is one of the most promising places to look for extraterrestrial life. Enceladus is one of the few places in the Solar System where liquid water is known to exist.
Spacecraft aren’t our only way of exploring the solar system, and Stephen leads a team of experimental astrophysicists based at Diamond and Keele University (UK), who have been recreating the conditions in Enceladus’s salty ocean right here in Harwell. They have been using Diamond’s astoundingly bright light to investigate one of the more mysterious properties of water – its ability to form clathrates when water is cooled under pressure. Clathrates are ice-like structures that behave like tiny cages, and can trap molecules such as carbon dioxide and methane.


>Read more on the Diamond Light Source website

Image Credit: LPG-CNRS-U. Nantes/Charles U., Prague.

Researchers explore ways to remove antibiotics polluting lakes and rivers

Pre-treated barley straw is showing promise as an environmentally-friendly material.

Pre-treated barley straw could be used to help soak up certain types of antibiotics polluting waterways. Pharmaceuticals, including antibiotics, are an increasingly common pollutant in water systems, says Catherine Hui Niu, associate professor in the Department of Chemical and Biological Engineering at the University of Saskatchewan.

After pharmaceuticals are used in humans and animals, traces are excreted and end up in sewage and, from there, into the environment. Their presence in waterways has raised concerns about potential risks to human health and ecosystems. To date there has been no effective way to remove them from water sources.

There are some materials that attract pharmaceutical pollutants to them in a process called adsorption, and could hypothetically be used to help remove them from water, says Niu. But their adsorption capacities need to be enhanced to make them useful for large scale clean-up efforts.

High-Speed Movie Aids Scientists Who Design Glowing Molecules

A research team captured ultrafast changes in fluorescent proteins between “dark” and “light” states.

The crystal jellyfish swims off the coast of the Pacific Northwest and can illuminate the waters when disturbed. That glow comes from proteins that absorb energy and then release it as bright flashes.

To track many of life’s activities, biologists took a cue from this same jellyfish.

Scientists collected one of the proteins found in the sea creatures, green fluorescent protein (GFP), and engineered a molecular light switch that would glow or remain dark depending on specific experimental conditions. The glowing labels are attached to molecules in living cells so researchers can highlight them during imaging experiments. They use these fluorescent markers to understand how a cell responds to changes in its environment, identify which molecules interact within a cell and track the effects of genetic mutations.

>Read More

Picture: Aequorea victoria, also called the crystal jelly, is a bioluminescent jellyfish that lives near the Pacific coast of North America. (Gary Kavanagh/


Researchers develop technique to reuse carbon dioxide and methane, slowing climate change

Reusing carbon dioxide (CO2) and methane waste emissions from industrial sources is closer to reality.

And this  thanks to recent findings from a project conducted at the Canadian Light Source and the University of Saskatchewan. CO2 and methane are the most significant greenhouse gases resulting from human activity, says Dr. Hui Wang, professor in the Department of Chemical and Biological Engineering at the University of Saskatchewan.

Capturing CO2 and methane emissions from industrial sources and reusing them could reduce the threat on the world’s ecosystem by slowing climate change, says Dr. Wang, the principal researcher of a paper published in Catalyst Today.

CO2 and methane can be triggered to undergo chemical reactions with each other to create synthesis gas or syngas. Syngas is a mixture of carbon monoxide and hydrogen, which can be used to synthesize a variety of liquid fuels or ammonia.

This reaction between CO2 and methane, also called ‘dry reforming of methane’, has not been fully scaled-up for commercial use due to lack of an inexpensive and industrially viable catalyst. Catalysts are used to speed up chemical reactions.

X-ray experiments reveal two different types of water

The strangest liquid of all is even more unusual than we thought

Liquid water exists in two different forms – at least at very low temperatures. This is the conclusion drawn from X-ray experiments carried out at DESY and at the Argonne National Laboratory in the US. An international team of researchers headed by the University of Stockholm now reports its findings in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS).

The scientists led by Anders Nilsson had been studying so-called amorphous ice. This glass-like form of frozen water has been known for decades. It is quite rare on earth and does not occur in everyday life; however, most water ice in the solar system actually exists in this amorphous form. Instead of forming a solid crystal – as in an ice cube taken from the freezer – the ice takes on the form of disordered chains of molecules, more akin to the internal structure of glass. Amorphous ice can be produced, for example, by cooling liquid water so rapidly that the molecules do not have enough time to form a crystal lattice.

>Read More

Picture: Liquid water has two variants: High Density Liquid (HDL) and Low Density Liquid (LDL) which have now been observed at extremely low temperatures, but can not be bottled. Photo: Gesine Born, DESY