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March 2010
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Berkeley Scientists Discover Inexpensive Metal Catalyst for Generating Hydrogen from Water

Hydrogen would command a key role in future renewable energy technologies, experts agree, if a relatively cheap, efficient and carbon-neutral means of producing it can be developed. An important step towards this elusive goal has been taken by a team of researchers with the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab) and the University of California, Berkeley. The team has discovered an inexpensive metal catalyst that can effectively generate hydrogen gas from water.

“Our new proton reduction catalyst is based on a molybdenum-oxo metal complex that is about 70 times cheaper than platinum, today’s most widely used metal catalyst for splitting the water molecule,” said Hemamala Karunadasa, one of the co-discoverers of this complex. “In addition, our catalyst does not require organic additives, and can operate in neutral water, even if it is dirty, and can operate in sea water, the most abundant source of hydrogen on earth and a natural electrolyte. These qualities make our catalyst ideal for renewable energy and sustainable chemistry.”

Karunadasa holds joint appointments with Berkeley Lab’s Chemical Sciences Division and UC Berkeley’s Chemistry Department. She is the lead author of a paper describing this work that appears in the April 29, 2010 issue of the journal Nature, titled “A molecular molybdenum-oxo catalyst for generating hydrogen from water.” Co-authors of this paper were Christopher Chang and Jeffrey Long, who also hold joint appointments with Berkeley Lab and UC Berkeley. Chang, in addition, is also an investigator with the Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI).

Hydrogen gas, whether combusted or used in fuel cells to generate electricity, emits only water vapor as an exhaust product, which is why this nation would already be rolling towards a hydrogen economy if only there were hydrogen wells to tap. However, hydrogen gas does not occur naturally and has to be produced. Most of the hydrogen gas in the United States today comes from natural gas, a fossil fuel. While inexpensive, this technique adds huge volumes of carbon emissions to the atmosphere. Hydrogen can also be produced through the electrolysis of water – using electricity to split molecules of water into molecules of hydrogen and oxygen. This is an environmentally clean and sustainable method of production – especially if the electricity is generated via a renewable technology such as solar or wind – but requires a water-splitting catalyst.

Nature has developed extremely efficient water-splitting enzymes – called hydrogenases – for use by plants during photosynthesis, however, these enzymes are highly unstable and easily deactivated when removed from their native environment. Human activities demand a stable metal catalyst that can operate under non-biological settings.

Metal catalysts are commercially available, but they are low valence precious metals whose high costs make their widespread use prohibitive. For example, platinum, the best of them, costs some $2,000 an ounce.

“The basic scientific challenge has been to create earth-abundant molecular systems that produce hydrogen from water with high catalytic activity and stability,” Chang says. “We believe our discovery of a molecular molybdenum-oxo catalyst for generating hydrogen from water without the use of additional acids or organic co-solvents establishes a new chemical paradigm for creating reduction catalysts that are highly active and robust in aqueous media.”

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Dr. Derse named Director of Center for Bioethics and Medical Humanities at The Medical College of Wisconsin

Arthur R. Derse, M.D., J.D., will assume responsibilities as director of the new Medical College of Wisconsin’s Center for Bioethics and Medical Humanities, effective July 1, 2010.  The new center combines the College’s existing Center for the Study of Bioethics with its Medical Humanities Program.  The Center will be part of the College’s Institute for Community, Population and Public Health.

Arthur Derse2010According to Jonathan Ravdin, M.D., dean and executive vice president, “The goal of the new Center is to have an integrated approach to meet the education, research, clinical, and community health needs while enhancing the impact and academic excellence of both bioethics and medical humanities. Under Dr. Derse’s leadership we look forward to the growth of the Center as it continues to make major contributions to the missions of the College.”


Dr. Derse is currently a professor of bioethics and emergency medicine and was formerly the associate director of the Center for the Study of Bioethics and director of the Medical College’s Medical Humanities Program. He directs the Medical College’s Medical Ethics and Palliative Care course and medical humanities courses. He also directs graduate bioethics courses encompassing law, ethics education and ethics consultation in health systems. He was elected to the College’s Society of Teaching Scholars and is an Arnold Gold Foundation Humanism in Medicine awardee.

His appointments include chair of the Veterans Health Administration’s National Ethics Committee, senior consultant for academic affairs for the American Medical Association’s Institute for Ethics, and member of the American Bar Association’s Commission on Law and Aging. He is past president of the American Society for Bioethics and Humanities, and is a member and former chair of the Ethics Committee of the American College of Emergency Physicians. He is chair of Froedtert Hospital’s Ethics Committee and serves on several other institutional ethics committees and editorial boards of ethics journals including the American Journal of Bioethics and the Journal of Clinical Ethics.

Dr. Derse has been a member of many expert advisory boards and committees, including the NIH Working Group on Informed Consent in Clinical Research Conducted under Emergent Circumstances. He is a highly published investigator and scholar in bioethics and medical humanities.
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Stanford researchers find electrical current stemming from plants

Stanford engineers have generated electrical current by tapping into the electron activity in individual algae cells. Photosynthesis excites electrons, which can then be turned into an electrical current using a specially designed gold electrode. This study could be the first step toward carbon-free electricity directly from plants.

BY GWYNETH DICKEY

In an electrifying first, Stanford scientists have plugged into algae cells and harnessed a tiny electrical current. They found it at the very source of energy production – photosynthesis, a plant's method of converting sunlight to chemical energy. It may be a first step toward generating high-efficiency bioelectricity that doesn't give off carbon dioxide as a byproduct, the researchers say.

"We believe we are the first to extract electrons out of living plant cells," said WonHyoung Ryu, the lead author of the paper published in the March issue of Nano Letters. Ryu conducted the experiments while he was a research associate for mechanical engineering Professor Fritz Prinz.

The Stanford research team developed a unique, ultra-sharp nanoelectrode made of gold, specially designed for probing inside cells. They gently pushed it through the algal cell membranes, which sealed around it, and the cell stayed alive. From the photosynthesizing cells, the electrode collected electrons that had been energized by light and the researchers generated a tiny electrical current.

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Ultrasensitive imaging method uses gold-silver 'nanocages'

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. - New research findings suggest that an experimental ultrasensitive medical imaging technique that uses a pulsed laser and tiny metallic "nanocages" might enable both the early detection and treatment of disease.

The system works by shining near-infrared laser pulses through the skin to detect hollow nanocages and solid nanoparticles - made of an alloy of gold and silver - that are injected into the bloodstream.

Unlike previous approaches using tiny metallic nanorods and nanospheres, the new technique does not cause heat damage to tissue being imaged. Another advantage is that it does not produce a background "auto fluorescent" glow of surrounding tissues, which interferes with the imaging and reduces contrast and brightness, said Ji-Xin Cheng (pronounced Gee-Shin), an associate professor of biomedical engineering and chemistry at Purdue University.

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International team discovers element 117

117

An international team of scientists from Russia and the United States, including two Department of Energy national laboratories and two universities, has discovered the newest superheavy element, element 117.

The team included scientists from the Joint Institute of Nuclear Research (Dubna, Russia), the Research Institute for Advanced Reactors (Dimitrovgrad), Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, Oak Ridge National Laboratory, Vanderbilt University, and the University of Nevada, Las Vegas.

“The discovery of element 117 is the culmination of a decade-long journey to expand the periodic table and write the next chapter in heavy element research,” said Academician Yuri Oganessian, scientific leader of the Flerov Laboratory of Nuclear Reactions at JINR and spokesperson for the collaboration.

The team established the existence of element 117 from decay patterns observed following the bombardment of a radioactive berkelium target with calcium ions at the JINR U400 cyclotron in Dubna. The experiment depended on the availability of special detection facilities and dedicated accelerator time at Dubna, unique isotope production and separation facilities at Oak Ridge, and distinctive nuclear data analysis capabilities at Livermore.

“This is a significant breakthrough for science,” LLNL director George Miller said. “The discovery of a new element provides new insight into the makeup of the universe and is a testimony to the strength of science and technology at the partner institutions.”

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