. 24/7 Space News .
Beautiful accident leads to advances in high pressure materials synthesis
by Staff Writers
Oak Ridge TN (SPX) Nov 18, 2016

Ilia Ivanov (left) from Oak Ridge National Laboratory's Center for Nanophase Materials Science, Chris Tulk (right) from ORNL's Spallation Neutron Source and their collaborators received unexpected results from a neutron scattering experiment at SNS that could open a new pathway for the synthesis of novel materials and also help explain the formation of complex organic structures observed in interstellar space. Image courtesy Genevieve Martin and ORNL. For a larger version of this image please go here.

Unexpected results from a neutron scattering experiment at the Department of Energy's Oak Ridge National Laboratory could open a new pathway for the synthesis of novel materials and also help explain the formation of complex organic structures observed in interstellar space.

In a paper published in the journal Angewandte Chemie International Edition, the multi-institutional team of researchers, led by Haiyan Zheng from the Center for High Pressure Science and Technology Advanced Research in Beijing, formerly of the Carnegie Institution of Washington, discuss their discovery of using high pressures--rather than high temperatures--to initiate chemical reactions.

Their research will significantly improve scientists' understanding of complex carbon structures and may offer clues to the formation of amino acids from nonbiological processes.

"This discovery was somewhat of a beautiful accident," said Ilia Ivanov, a research scientist at the ORNL's Center for Nanophase Materials Sciences, a Department of Energy Office of Science User Facility.

Ivanov explains that it all began during a neutron diffraction experiment at ORNL's Spallation Neutron Source--also a DOE Office of Science User Facility. While performing a high-pressure polymerization experiment on the chemical compound acetonitrile (CH3CN) using the SNAP instrument, researchers detected the unexpected presence of ammonia. Ammonia is a colorless gas but has a very distinct odor that can be detected in even minute quantities.

"If you put acetonitrile under high pressures, you'll bring molecules together and see it reacting with itself, and eventually, it forms either a solid yellowish polymer or, as we found out, a black, carbon-rich material," Ivanov said.

Acetonitrile is one of a number of organic compounds that have been discovered in outer space and is thought to be implicated in the origins of simple amino acids, one of the basic molecules of life. In a cosmic event such as an asteroid collision, the pressures and temperatures generated can be very large, and in the presence of acetonitrile, could mimic the experiment the researchers conducted at SNAP.

The formation of the yellowish polymer was the expected result of the SNAP experiment, said SNAP instrument scientist Chris Tulk, but a surprise was just ahead.

"When the sample was depressurized and the pressure cell opened, ammonia was detected. It has a very distinct scent," Tulk said. "We thought, 'there shouldn't be ammonia in this sample right now.' So we started looking for what could have happened to first form, and then release, ammonia."

The experimental researchers then collaborated with experts in advanced electron microscopy, materials science and computing to understand the mysterious results. Based on a combination of computer simulations and microscopy, they concluded that nitrogen had left the acetonitrile sample, resulting in an enriched carbon-based material.

"The carbon material that was left was imaged using our best electron microscopes," Ivanov said. "It had onion-like layers--one shell of carbon sheet after another. So nitrogen went somewhere, but where did it go? It escaped in the form of ammonia gas."

Because a temperature-based catalyst is usually required to convert a polymer into another material, this ability to cause a chemical reaction through pressure alone is unusual.

"I wanted to continue doing these experiments to determine how much we could control the structure of a carbon material through pressure, not temperature," said Ivanov, comparing the experimental conditions with those found in household pressure cookers.

"In most cases, pressure cookers still use high temperatures to help foods cook thoroughly. But with our experiments, we've been able to use a sort of pressure cooking at room temperature, albeit at much higher pressures."

While a pressure cooker operates at 0.1 megapascals, these experiments used much higher pressures--up to 23,000 megapascals, which corresponds to the pressure found 650 kilometers below the Earth's surface at the boundary between its upper and lower mantle.

"This paper is truly exciting for us," Tulk said. "Using this process with the addition of oxygen, possibly by the addition of carbon dioxide or water into the reactants, complex carbon structures similar to the kind we suspect throughout early formation of amino acids on Earth may be realized."

The researchers note that cross-disciplinary expertise in neutron sciences and nanoscience, together with Energy Frontier Research in Extreme Environments (EFree) Center, made the research possible. EFree is a DOE Energy Frontier Research Center.

"One without the other seemed like a one-sided mission. Two aspects of research, structure and functionality, were brought together through the synergetic work. Through joint efforts like this, we continue to help users drive the discovery of new materials and new functionalities," Ivanov said.

Research paper: "Polymerization of Acetonitrile via a Hydrogen Transfer Reaction from CH3 to CN under Extreme Conditions,"

Comment on this article using your Disqus, Facebook, Google or Twitter login.

Thanks for being here;
We need your help. The SpaceDaily news network continues to grow but revenues have never been harder to maintain.

With the rise of Ad Blockers, and Facebook - our traditional revenue sources via quality network advertising continues to decline. And unlike so many other news sites, we don't have a paywall - with those annoying usernames and passwords.

Our news coverage takes time and effort to publish 365 days a year.

If you find our news sites informative and useful then please consider becoming a regular supporter or for now make a one off contribution.
SpaceDaily Contributor
$5 Billed Once

credit card or paypal
SpaceDaily Monthly Supporter
$5 Billed Monthly

paypal only


Related Links
Oak Ridge National Laboratory
Space Technology News - Applications and Research

Share this article via these popular social media networks
del.icio.usdel.icio.us DiggDigg RedditReddit GoogleGoogle

Previous Report
Dry adhesive holds in extreme cold, strengthens in extreme heat
Washington DC (SPX) Nov 17, 2016
Researchers from Case Western Reserve University, Dayton Air Force Research Laboratory and China have developed a new dry adhesive that bonds in extreme temperatures - a quality that could make the product ideal for space exploration and beyond. The gecko-inspired adhesive loses no traction in temperatures as cold as liquid nitrogen or as hot as molten silver, and actually gets stickier as ... read more

NASA, U.S. Navy Practice Orion Recovery Procedures

Russia space center to work with US on spaceflight biomed issues

Progress, but uphill slog for women in tech

NavCube could support an X-ray communication test in space

Airbus Safran Launchers and ESA sign confirmation of the Ariane 6 program

US revives hypersonic aerospace research

JCSAT-15 arrives in Kourou for Dec Ariane 5 launch

Aerojet Rocketdyne completes CST launch abort engine hot fire tests

Meteorites reveal lasting drought on Mars

Opportunity heads to next waypoint at over 27 miles on the odometer

A funnel on mars could be a place to look for life

Novel Analysis Technique Helps Solve Beagle 2 Mystery

China launches pulsar test satellite

China's Chang'e-2 a success

Long March-5 reflects China's "greatest advancement" yet in rockets

New heavy-lift carrier rocket boosts China's space dream

Can India beat China at its game with common satellite for South Asia

SSL delivers powerful, high capacity broadband satellite for Hughes to Cape Canaveral

NASA to Launch Fleet of Hurricane-Tracking SmallSats

NASA small satellites will take a fresh look at Earth

Dry adhesive holds in extreme cold, strengthens in extreme heat

Elbit Systems Reveals New Emergency Scenarios Virtual Reality Trainer

First random laser made of paper-based ceramics

A new type of convection is proven in granular gases

Earth-bound instrument analyzes light from planets circling distant stars

Protoplanetary Discs Being Shaped by Newborn Planets

Scientists unveil latest exoplanet-hunter CHARIS

What happens to a pathogenic fungus grown in space?

Mystery solved behind birth of Saturn's rings

Last Bits of 2015 Pluto Flyby Data Received on Earth

Uranus may have two undiscovered moons

Possible Clouds on Pluto, Next Target is Reddish

The content herein, unless otherwise known to be public domain, are Copyright 1995-2024 - Space Media Network. All websites are published in Australia and are solely subject to Australian law and governed by Fair Use principals for news reporting and research purposes. AFP, UPI and IANS news wire stories are copyright Agence France-Presse, United Press International and Indo-Asia News Service. ESA news reports are copyright European Space Agency. All NASA sourced material is public domain. Additional copyrights may apply in whole or part to other bona fide parties. All articles labeled "by Staff Writers" include reports supplied to Space Media Network by industry news wires, PR agencies, corporate press officers and the like. Such articles are individually curated and edited by Space Media Network staff on the basis of the report's information value to our industry and professional readership. Advertising does not imply endorsement, agreement or approval of any opinions, statements or information provided by Space Media Network on any Web page published or hosted by Space Media Network. General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) Statement Our advertisers use various cookies and the like to deliver the best ad banner available at one time. All network advertising suppliers have GDPR policies (Legitimate Interest) that conform with EU regulations for data collection. By using our websites you consent to cookie based advertising. If you do not agree with this then you must stop using the websites from May 25, 2018. Privacy Statement. Additional information can be found here at About Us.