Nav: Home

Understanding and controlling the molecule that made the universe

March 13, 2019

EAST LANSING, Mich. - Trihydrogen, or H3+, is acknowledged by scientists as the molecule that made the universe. In recent issues of Nature Communications and the Journal of Chemical Physics, Michigan State University researchers employed high-speed lasers to shine a spotlight on the mechanisms that are key in H3+ creation and its unusual chemistry.

H3+ is prevalent in the universe, the Milky Way, gas giants and the Earth's ionosphere. It's also being created and studied in the lab of Marcos Dantus, University Distinguished Professor in chemistry and physics. Using ultrafast lasers - and technology invented by Dantus - a team of scientists is beginning to understand the chemistry of this iconic molecule.

"Observing how roaming H2 molecules evolve to H3+ is nothing short of astounding," Dantus said. "We first documented this process using methanol; now we've been able to expand and duplicate this process in a number of molecules and identified a number of new pathways."

Astrochemists see the big picture, observing H3+ and defining it through an interstellar perspective. It's created so fast - in less time than it takes a bullet to cross an atom - that it is extremely difficult to figure out how three chemical bonds are broken and three new ones are formed in such a short timescale.

That's when chemists using femtosecond lasers come into play. Rather than study the stars using a telescope, Dantus' team literally looks at the small picture. The entire procedure is viewed at the molecular level and is measured in femtoseconds - 1 millionth of 1 billionth of a second. The process the team views takes between 100 and 240 femtoseconds. Dantus knows this because the clock starts when he fires the first laser pulse. The laser pulse then "sees" what's happening.

The two-laser technique revealed the hydrogen transfer, as well as the hydrogen-roaming chemistry, that's responsible for H3+ formation. Roaming mechanisms briefly generate a neutral molecule (H2) that stays in the vicinity and extracts a third hydrogen molecule to form H3+. And it turns out there's more than one way it can happen. In one experiment involving ethanol, the team revealed six potential pathways, confirming four of them.

Since laser pulses are comparable to sound waves, Dantus' team discovered a "tune" that enhances H3+ formation and one that discourages formation. When converting these "shaped" pulses to a slide whistle, successful formation happens when the note starts flats, rises slightly and finishes with a downward, deeper dive. The song is music to the ears of chemists who can envision many potential applications for this breakthrough.

"These chemical reactions are the building blocks of life in the universe," Dantus said. "The prevalence of roaming hydrogen molecules in high-energy chemical reactions involving organic molecules and organic ions is relevant not only for materials irradiated with lasers, but also materials and tissues irradiated with x-rays, high energy electrons, positrons and more."

This study reveals chemistry that is relevant in terms of the universe's formation of water and organic molecules. The secrets it could unlock, from astrochemical to medical, are endless, he added.
-end-
MSU scientists who contributed to the Nature Communications paper included Nagitha Ekanayake, Muath Nairat, Nicholas Weingartz, Benjamin Farris, Benjamin Levine and James Jackson. Researchers from Kansas State University also contributed to this study.

MSU scientists who contributed to the Journal of Chemical Physics paper included Ekanayake, Nairat, Matthew Michie, Weingartz and Levine.

This research was funded by the Department of Energy and the National Science Foundation.

(Note to media: Please include link to the orginal papers in online coverage: https://www.nature.com/articles/s41467-018-07577-0;https://aip.scitation.org/doi/10.1063/1.5070067)

Michigan State University has been working to advance the common good in uncommon ways for 160 years. One of the top research universities in the world, MSU focuses its vast resources on creating solutions to some of the world's most pressing challenges, while providing life-changing opportunities to a diverse and inclusive academic community through more than 200 programs of study in 17 degree-granting colleges.

For MSU news on the Web, go to MSUToday. Follow MSU News on Twitter at twitter.com/MSUnews.

Michigan State University

Related Hydrogen Articles:

Paving the way for hydrogen fuel cells
The hype around hydrogen fuel cells has died down, but scientists have continued to pursue new technologies that could enable such devices to gain a firmer foothold.
Keeping the hydrogen coming
A coating of molybdenum improves the efficiency of catalysts for producing hydrogen.
Hydrogen bonds directly detected for the first time
For the first time, scientists have succeeded in studying the strength of hydrogen bonds in a single molecule using an atomic force microscope.
Argon is not the 'dope' for metallic hydrogen
Hydrogen is both the simplest and the most-abundant element in the universe, so studying it can teach scientists about the essence of matter.
Metallic hydrogen, once theory, becomes reality
Nearly a century after it was theorized, Harvard scientists have succeeded in creating metallic hydrogen.
From theory to reality: The creation of metallic hydrogen
For more than 80 years, it has been predicted that hydrogen will adopt metallic properties under certain conditions, and now researchers have successfully demonstrated this phenomenon.
Artificial leaf goes more efficient for hydrogen generation
A new study, affiliated with Ulsan National Institute of Science and Technology has introduced a new artificial leaf that generates hydrogen, using the power of the Sun to mimic underwater photosynthesis.
Hydrogen from sunlight -- but as a dark reaction
The storage of photogenerated electric energy and its release on demand are still among the main obstacles in artificial photosynthesis.
New process produces hydrogen at much lower temperature
Waseda University researchers have developed a new method for producing hydrogen, which is fast, irreversible, and takes place at much lower temperature using less energy.
Hydrogen in your pocket? New plastic for carrying and storing hydrogen
A Waseda University research group has developed a polymer which can store hydrogen in a light, compact and flexible sheet, and is safe to touch even when filled with hydrogen gas.

Related Hydrogen Reading:

Best Science Podcasts 2019

We have hand picked the best science podcasts for 2019. Sit back and enjoy new science podcasts updated daily from your favorite science news services and scientists.
Now Playing: TED Radio Hour

Changing The World
What does it take to change the world for the better? This hour, TED speakers explore ideas on activism—what motivates it, why it matters, and how each of us can make a difference. Guests include civil rights activist Ruby Sales, labor leader and civil rights activist Dolores Huerta, author Jeremy Heimans, "craftivist" Sarah Corbett, and designer and futurist Angela Oguntala.
Now Playing: Science for the People

#521 The Curious Life of Krill
Krill may be one of the most abundant forms of life on our planet... but it turns out we don't know that much about them. For a create that underpins a massive ocean ecosystem and lives in our oceans in massive numbers, they're surprisingly difficult to study. We sit down and shine some light on these underappreciated crustaceans with Stephen Nicol, Adjunct Professor at the University of Tasmania, Scientific Advisor to the Association of Responsible Krill Harvesting Companies, and author of the book "The Curious Life of Krill: A Conservation Story from the Bottom of the World".