Naked Mole Rat- Coming to a lab near you!

•December 2, 2009 • 9 Comments

Well, they might not be the cutest of the animal kingdom, but researchers are finding that studies of the naked mole rat may lead to breakthroughs in human health. Nearly blind and hairless, these animals are becoming increasingly popular in research laboratories. Studies of the naked mole rat are drawing increasing interest from the scientific community because, in spite of its fragile appearance, the naked mole rat is seemingly invulnerable.

Naked mole rats are able to live up to 30 years of age and are the longest-living rodents known. This is significantly greater than the life span of most rodents, which is only 2-3 years. Furthermore, naked mole rats undergo this extended aging very successfully. In fact, a study of vascular aging of the naked mole rat showed that the production of reactive oxygen species that normally cause oxidative stress during aging and indictators of apoptotic cell death where not significantly increased as the naked mole rats aged. Meanwhile, a significant increase was seen in the production of reactive oxygen species and indicators of apoptotic cell death in aging rats. These differences alone might not account for the several fold increase in longevity and successful aging in naked mole rats compared to other rats and mice. Thus, the naked mole rat continues to provide an excellent subject for aging research.

Fig. showing increase significant increase in reactive oxygen species production in aging rat and little reactive oxygen species production in the aging naked mole rat (NMR). 

Source: http://ajpheart.physiology.org/cgi/reprint/293/2/H919

Naked mole rat studies have the potential to offer insights into other areas of human health as well. Because they lack a specific neurotransmitter (substance P), naked mole rats do not feel pain. The naked mole rat does not get cancer, perhaps thanks to a resistance gene (p16) that prevents cells from crowding together and growing uncontrollably. Naked mole rat brains have also been shown to withstand oxygen deprivation for over an hour. These qualities make the naked mole rat useful for pain, cancer, and stroke research.
Twenty years ago, only two research groups were conducting studies such as these on naked mole rats. However, these researchers predict that naked mole rats will become common laboratory test subjects within the next ten years. They may not be model organisms, but the mole rats longevity and hardiness would likely facilitate study. Furthermore, the promise of insight into human health provides powerful incentive for researchers in fields of health and medicine to study the naked mole rat. Maybe these creatures will be coming to a lab near you. Until then, be sure to check out this cool naked mole rat music video brought to you by You Tube and Disney’s Kim Possible: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=G6scHgACSD0

References:
http://www.google.com/hostednews/ap/article/ALeqM5hv_7xZmaxilbsxoDDvC_MxDFYDxQD9C8MI881
 http://ajpheart.physiology.org/cgi/reprint/293/2/H919
 http://www.sciencedirect.com/science?_ob=ArticleURL&_udi=B6T31-4GTW8NS-4&_user=5907928&_rdoc=1&_fmt=&_orig=search&_sort=d&_docanchor=&view=c&_acct=C000068825&_version=1&_urlVersion=0&_userid=5907928&md5=43e6c7bd45ed083c6afd0fcc39848068

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Frog Populations Declining

•December 1, 2009 • 4 Comments

Human impact has become a buzz word again in the last few decades. Rachel Carson sparked a major catalyst when she wrote Silent Spring all those years ago. Although, it seemed like interest in human impact on the environment waned for quite a few years sometime between the late 1960’s and early 1990’s. I mean, does anyone else remember the huge issue with McDonald’s using styrofoam packaging for their hamburgers that arose and jumpstarted the “Reduce Reuse Recycle campaign” in the early 90’s? How did we manage to get through two decades (70’s and 80’s) of styrofoam gobbling without ever once questioning the waste buildup we were creating? Maybe it was the drugs.


Well, that “Reduce Reuse Recycle” campaign in the 1990’s certainly did a number, because I am happy to report that we are still moving forward with environmental policies. Even here at DePauw, we have a Green Report Card, a Carbon footprint, DEPP (DePauw Environmental Policy Project), a sustainability intern, recycling etc .You get the point, right? Human impact is huge. Which is why, when I stumbled across this article on Science Daily called “Amphibians as Environmental Omen Disputed,” I had to write about it. The article is based off the paper “An examination of amphibian sensitivity to environmental contaminants: are amphibians poor canaries?” which was recently released in the Journal Ecology Letters, unfortunately, all I could locate was the abstract. I thought it was interesting because a lot of the concern around human impact seems to be how we are impacting the world for ourselves, as humans. Yes, I know there is plenty of literature about how we are impacting animals, I just don’t think it is thought of by the average, not-so-biologically-geeky person. More specifically, I doubt many people wonder how their use of shampoo is affecting their local amphibian population. I guess that’s why I thought it was interesting, so below I have included a brief summary of the article.
Almost twenty years ago, a new story was released after the National Research Council conference in Irvine California. The story noted the rapid decline of some amphibian species and claimed that the decline was because amphibians were particularly sensitive to environmental threats. The prevailing thought behind this claim was that due to the frog’s permeable skin that allows for the ready uptake of chemicals and other pollutants in the surrounding environment. Additionally, it was believed that a dual aquatic-terrestrial life cycle and a relatively rudimentary immune system made them very susceptible to human-mediated environmental changes.

Logically, these thoughts seem to make sense. Well, at least it did to me. However, recent scientists have questioned this concept. They have pointed out that there was not an adequate comparison of amphibian sensitivity to environmental challenges relative to other taxa. In response a group of scientists from University of South Dakota, Yale University and Washington State University have examined an additional 1,279 species, using Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Aquatic Toxicity Information Retrieval database.
As it turned out, comparing toxicity levels was a good plan. They found that frogs have a range of reactions, from being moderately susceptible to not at all susceptible. The results show that frogs are not that different from other animals. Yes, they can be a possible indicator of potential exposure to different chemicals in the environment, but they are certainly not a leading indicator species like they were once believed to be. So how do you explain the rapid decline researchers observed during the 80’s and 90’s?
Other research has suggested the decline in populations is due to habitat destruction and alteration, introduction of exotic predators, and acid rain. Yet, there are still many examples of populations that have declined, and no one seems to know why.
I wholly support the continued study of declining amphibian populations as well as other organisms. Maybe they are just natural fluctuations occurring in the populations, although many researchers are hard pressed to believe this. It may not be the result of chemical accumulation as was once accepted, for it seems their skin is far less permeable then we once believed. Something is causing the decline, and I believe it is undoubtedly related to human impact. Research has already successfully linked some declining populations with human impact, as was previously mentioned; it is only a matter of time before the mystery losses are explained.

References:
http://www.jstor.org/stable/3892876?seq=1
http://www3.interscience.wiley.com/journal/122658158/abstract
http://www.jstor.org/stable/3974636
http://www.jstor.org/sici?origin=sfx%3Asfx&sici=0888-8892(2001)15%3A4%3C903%3AADAECU%3E2.0.CO%3B2-D

Tactile Feedback to Improve Text Messaging Speed

•November 30, 2009 • 5 Comments

According to surveys, 85% of Americans own cell phones. In addition, Americans also send on average 568 text messages per year. This being said, I’d guess that many people reading this blog send/receive exponentially more text messages than that! With these things in mind, cell phones are arguably one of the most pervasive mobile computing and communication devices. In addition, according to the CTIA, Americans text more than they talk. With this in mind, cell phones have definitely proven their convenience through portability, but there are some significant shortfalls that have yet to be ironed out. Looking at the various methods for text entry in cell phones, there are two main varieties – predictive (such as Tegic’s T9), and non-predictive entry. Along with these two methods, there are keyboards ranging from condensed dial pads with multiple letters per button to full QWERTY pads (a standard keyboard). As a side note, condensed keyboards with multiple letters per button use a technique called multitap in order to make all letters available.

At the ACM Conference on Human Factors in Computing System (CHI) this past Spring, a group of researchers from Scotland proposed a novel idea to increase the rate at which we text message particularly on condensed cell phone keyboards. As rationale, they cited the overall increasing trend of predictive text entry, text messaging in general, and the trend towards smaller devices. Their idea hinges on the notion that with predictive text messaging, if users were given feedback during text entry, this would improve text entry speed and prevent syntax mistakes in text messages.

However, mobile devices are often used in “noisy” or disabling environments such as loud subways, sunny beaches, or quiet workplaces. This rules out auditory and visual feedback. Given that users are inherently holding the cell phone, the researchers reasoned that tactile feedback would be most appropriate. This research breaks the total time taken to enter a given phrase into three categories:

1) Th – Time taken to settle hands on the keyboard (.4 seconds)

2) Tk – Time taken to press a key (.28 seconds)

3) Tm – Time taken to mentally respond to system action (1.38 seconds)

This research targets 3). In short, the proposed feedback is a 75ms long vibration using the phones’ built-in vibrator. When the predictive text mechanism thinks the user should look at the screen, it triggers the tactile feedback. Given a suggestion of n letters with m letters typed, and Tk’ the user’s average typing speed over the past 10 characters, if (n – m)Tk’ > Tm, then the system fires the vibration. Basically, if the potential time saved is greater than the mental processing time (3), then the mechanism tries to save the user some time. In another scenario, if the predictive text mechanism cannot find any words in its dictionary that match the input text, the system fires a longer, 150ms long vibration.

The experimental setup consisted of twenty participants with varied experience using predictive text entry, age, gender, etc. In order to quantify these variables, this experiment looked at the data with a per-character time span. Each participant entered six phrases into a Nokia E65 cell phone using predictive T9 technology.

After conducting the experiment, it was apparent that using tactile feedback in the given scenarios improved overall text entry speed by about 5% and is statistically significant.

No Tactile Feedback     Tactile Feedback

600 ms/key                          519 ms/key
20wpm                                  23wpm

Future research in this project aims to target highly ambiguous words with unique feedback, in order to more clearly alert the user. Overall, this would help to “fine-tune” the algorithm so that it doesn’t just treat every ambiguous word the same.

REFERENCES

Dunlop, D, Taylor, F. “Tactile Feedback for Predictive Text Entry,” in Proc. CHI ’09, Boston, Massachusetts, USA, 2257-2260, 2009.

Get drunk with wine?

•November 30, 2009 • 9 Comments

A few years ago, Harvard researcher Dr. David Sinclair joined the growing ranks of scientists who believe that severely restricting calorie intake can slow down the aging process. Evidence for that surprising phenomenon emerged in the 1930s, when scientists learned that underfed rodents lived up to 40% longer than their well-fed counterparts. The results have since been duplicated in fruit flies, worms, monkeys and other lab animals. And preliminary research on humans suggests that some markers of aging–levels of blood glucose, blood pressure, cholesterol–improve on calorie-restriction (CR) diets. Dr. Sinclair and other researchers are making progress by trying to understand at the molecular level what it is about CR that seems to slow aging. Sinclair has found, for example, that resveratrol, a chemical found in red wine, increases life-spans of yeast and fruit flies. It works by amplifying the action of a molecule called SIRT1, which is present in all life forms and is produced in response to stress.

Resveratrol obviously does its job protecting plants, but what is its affect when taken by humans? Since ancient times, we have looked on herbal genius as part and parcel of the medications we apply to various, if not all illnesses in our body. Up until now, alternative medicine is still primarily composed of leaves and fruits and even roots. Vitamins and minerals are abundant in the flora that the earth provided for our consumption. In recent times, we have discovered the benefits of phytochemicals beta-carotene and lycopene to the regeneration of good cells in our body.

Resveratrol is a relatively well-known plant chemical found in the skin of grapes, and in wine. There is plenty of research that in less complex life-forms than humans, such as our friend the mouse, resveratrol lengthens life span, decreases diabetes, and keeps the friendly mouse nice and slim.
Resveratrol takes the role of an anti-oxidant in the body, ridding it of free radicals that can cause damage to our cells. There is evidence that shows resveratrol to help in retention of memory. There are also studies being conducted that is looking into the possibility that resveratrol activates an anti-aging gene that lies dormant in our body. If this is true, then we can say goodbye to premature wrinkles and age spots.

Resveratrol can also be helpful to the prevention of cardiovascular ailments. It is a natural anti-inflammatory and may inhibit inflamed blood cells from clogging arteries. Aside from that, resveratrol is also a natural anti-coagulant and may help in preventing blood platelets from clotting and blocking cerebral arteries. When cerebral arteries are blocked, the risk of a stroke happening is multiplied.

Resveratrol is also being touted as the best way to prevent obesity. It acts on triglycerides that get deposited in fat cells, preventing them from massive build-up. Cholesterol is present in two forms – LDL (low density lipoprotein) and HDL (high density lipoprotein) It is the LDL which is the “bad cholesterol” which can lead to many health problems, while the “good” HDL helps to keep the bad LDL under control. The reason why LDL is bad, is that it oxidizes and forms plague (a build-up) on your blood vessels which leads to the narrowing of the blood vessels, and which will lead to heart disease, stroke and blood circulatory problems. Too much bad fats that accumulate in the body can trigger illnesses such as hypertension, diabetes, and heart ailments.

Cancer is also a disease that may be prevented, and may be treated, by resveratrol. Because of its chemical composition, resveratrol acts as both an enzyme and a catalyst to various chemical substances that may cause cancer cells to grow. The good thing about resveratrol is that it only acts adversely to bad and damaged cells, and protects the good cells from getting damaged. When it comes to humans, it is presently unknown whether taking resveratrol can help prevent cancer. Resveratrol is currently being studied to determine how it affects all three stages of carcinogenesis: initiation, promotion, and progression. One of the most recent news pertaining to these studies comes from researchers at the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health. The research group has demonstrated the benefits of resveratrol in killing cancer cells and shrinking tumors in three forms of cancer including retinoblastoma, skin melanoma, and breast cancer.

It is therefore not surprising that resveratrol has the same characteristics, if not better ones, that can help us maintain the health of our system. While studies into the benefits of resveratrol in humans is still very young, the potential for this compound is incredibly promising and exciting . Doctors have been suggesting one glass of red wine a day for many years, and now you know why. While red wine has been the most well known method of resveratrol intake, there are some obvious drawbacks to drinking an excess of alcoholic beverages. This is why the invent of powerful resveratrol supplements is so important. They allow us to get a higher concentration of the antioxidant, without the drawbacks of alcohol.

Reference:

http://www.resveratrolsecret.com/
Schlachterman A, Valle F, Wall KM, Azios NG, Castillo L, Morell L, Washington AV, Cubano LA, Dharmawardhane SF., Combined resveratrol, quercetin, and catechin treatment reduces breast tumor growth in a nude mouse model., Transl Oncol. 2008 Mar;1(1):19-27.
http://www.sciencedirect.com/science?_ob=ArticleURL&_udi=B6WK6-4MNHY9H-2&_user=5907928&_coverDate=03%2F31%2F2007&_rdoc=1&_fmt=full&_orig=search&_cdi=6898&_sort=d&_docanchor=&view=c&_acct=C000068825&_version=1&_urlVersion=0&_userid=5907928&md5=b8ed11cd56817933005a21d945318dee#secx14
http://www.anyvitamins.com/resveratrol-cholesterol.htm
http://www.resveratrol.info/cardiovascular-effects/vascular-cell-adhesion/

Bioengineering: The key to a better life or Frankenstein’s monster?

•November 28, 2009 • 8 Comments

The field of bioengineering is a convoluted and daunting subject for most. The word itself is hard to conceptualize. Many people can visualize the work of electrical engineers or even chemical engineers, but bioengineering seems to imply the application of engineering principles to life itself. However absurd this may sound, it is the correct definition. Bioengineering is a massive field that encompasses genetic testing, micromachines and robotics, prosthetics, tissue regeneration, and stem cell research. This field is incredibly useful and very hotly debated. Any time stem cells are mentioned out in contemporary society, someone sounds the battle cry and a pleasant political discussion on ethics becomes a knockout, drag out free for all.

One of the main arguments against bioengineering is that humans are not fit to play the role of god. ONe of the main examples is the development of transgenic animals, or animals with specific genetic qualities that allow for the study of those particular attributes. For example, Harvard University received a patent for their “oncomouse” in 1987. The “oncomouse” is a transgenic mouse that is highly prone to developing cancer. Aside from the fact that patenting living things is ridiculous, many people feel that the development of terminally ill organisms is not an ability we should have. If we can control this attribute, what’s going to stop us from genetic enhancement, which leads into the next topic.

Another main concern about bioengineering is centered around the idea of eugenics. Webster’s dictionary defines eugenics as the “the study of or belief in the possibility of improving the qualities of the human species or a human population, especially by such means as discouraging reproduction by persons having genetic defects or presumed to have inheritable undesirable traits (negative eugenics) or encouraging reproduction by persons presumed to have inheritable desirable traits (positive eugenics).” This theory is particularly entwined with the role genetic testing and genetic technology and therapy that currently exist and are in development. Many opponents worry that in the future, babies will be more “engineered” than “born.” Eye and hair color, weight, build, athletic and intellectual ability are all traits that can be improved through the use of genetic techniques that are in development.

While there are many scary thoughts and possibilities that surround genetic engineering, the field is less about controlling what it means to be human and more about improving the quality of life that exists. There is a plethora of information to be gained about human growth and development from stem cells, and there are more ethical and humane ways of harvesting them than there were in the 1990’s when the debate emerged.  The use of stem cells has also been shown to be effective in treating disease in many animal models. Adult stem cells have the potential to replace the cells that become erythrocytes that are damaged during chemotherapy. Stem cells have also been shown to heal the lungs of newborn animals, which may offer the possibility of treating premature babies.

The role of bioengineering in genetic disease is also less about eugenics and more about testing and treatment, though eugenics certainly remains a dark, ominous cloud upon the horizon. Genetic testing functions to determine if people are carriers for certain diseases, like Huntington’s Disease or Angelman’s Syndrome. There exists a rift between the testing and treatment, however. Current technology only allows for testing to be done, not significant treatment. Sometimes this can affect the quality of life for the the people being tested. If there is not a significant treatment, many people are hesitant to get tested in the first place.

In reality, bioengineering is incredibly useful and only becomes controversial when it is applied to humans. For example, bioengineering allows us to develop microbes that can digest oil while producing no harmful side effects. Recently, bioengineers from Korea have genetically modified E. coli to allow it to produce polylactic acid, a main ingredient in plastics and rubber. This mechanism is remarkably efficient and does not require the fossil fuels, chemical solvents, and time constraints of the current mechanism. The transgenic E. coli can produce the polylactic acid in a single step fermentation process, as opposed to the conventional two-step fermentation. No one is arguing that this is unethical or immoral because who wouldn’t want to clean up an oil spill or make plastic production more efficient?

The battle over bioengineering will continue to rage while the topic are fueled by religion and politics. However, it is important to note that we all benefit from bioengineering on a daily basis, whether it is directly through a heart implant, a genetic test, a prosthetic limb or indirectly through the tests conducted by researchers on cancer, vitamin consumption, or the Human Genome Project. Like it or not, bioengineering is here to stay. Now we, the villagers, need to decide if we accept Frankenstein’s monster who offers peace and friendship, or do we chase it away with torches and pitchforks thereby transforming it into an evil abomination?

A Novel Method for Doping in Sporting Competitions

•November 27, 2009 • 7 Comments

At a time when even our greatest athletic champions are being exposed as cheats for using performance-enhancing drugs, the science behind the doping methods that enhance athletic performance is both important and pertinent to anyone who identifies as a sports fan.  The use of performance-enhancing drugs, furthermore, is not limited by sport, gender, or creativity; and it involves not merely mediocre talents and fringe contributors, but household names and marquee athletes as well.  Out of the laundry list of athletes that have been convicted of using performance enhancing drugs in recent years, we need only look at a few – baseball’s home run king (Barry Bonds) and best player (Alex Rodriguez), Tour de France champion Floyd Landis, and Olympic gold medalist Marion Jones – to see just how profound of an impact that performance-enhancing drugs have had on the sporting world.

With the societal implications of performance-enhancing drugs in mind, a recent study, published in the Journal of Neuroscience and blogged about by Wired magazine, examined a novel method of doping in sport competitions.  The study found that injecting athletes with morphine allowed them to exercise longer and harder during training, and that these performance increases could be replicated by a placebo injection on the day of competition.  If athletes are able to experience the same performance-enhancing benefits by taking a placebo on race day that they receive from taking morphine on training days, then this new method of doping presents a novel method for enhancing athletic performance.  Moreover, the authors of the study are presenting the findings as an undetectable doping technique because the World Anti-Doping Agency only bans competitors from taking opiates on the day of competition.

The study, in devising a method to test the benefits of placebo-induced gains in pain tolerance, drew on previous studies that have shown that administration of a placebo after pharmacological conditioning with opioids (e.g., morphine) can produce powerful “morphine-like” responses.  In fact, administration of a placebo after pharmacological preconditioning has been shown to activate the same neurotransmitters in the brain that are activated by actual endogenous opioids.  Thus, in other words, in some ways a placebo behaves no differently – physiologically speaking – than the actual drug in patients who have been pharmacologically preconditioned.

To examine the effects of morphine injection on athletic endurance, the researchers divided the study participants into four categories:  Teams A and B underwent training without morphine; Teams C and D received morphine injections one hour before the training session.  The training sessions consisted of a test of pain tolerance while exercising, and the procedure was run once a week for two weeks before competition.

On the day of competition, of the two teams that received no pharmacological preconditioning (Teams A and B), only Team B was given a placebo (Team A was not given anything).  Interestingly, the participants who received a placebo without preconditioning (i.e., Team B), experienced a small but significant increase in pain endurance.  The participants on Team C, which had underwent preconditioning, were also given a placebo on competition day, and were found to have the highest mean pain tolerance on the day of competition (Fig. 1).

Figure 1: Main pain tolerance after injection

While Team D also underwent preconditioning, they received injections of morphine plus naloxone – a substance known to block opioid receptors (via competitive inhibition) – on competition day.  As such, Team D had a mean pain tolerance similar to the two teams that did not undergo preconditioning.

The crux of the studies’ discovery lies in the finding that Team C – the team that underwent pre-competition training with morphine, but received only a placebo injection on competition day – had the highest mean pain tolerance on race day.  It reinforces the idea that a placebo can produce physiological “morphine-like” responses in people who have undergone pharmacological preconditioning with morphine.  By examining the pain tolerance results among the individual participants in

Team C, the researchers also found that larger performance increases after morphine administration also translated to larger performance increases after placebo administration.

In terms of the study’s relevance to the sporting world, perhaps the most significant piece of data is that the placebo effect was observed one week after the participants last underwent morphine preconditioning.  This means that cyclists or runners training for a competition could feasibly use morphine to increase pain tolerance and pharmacologically precondition their opioid

receptors, and then reap the benefits on race day without actually injecting a banned substance.  This, of course, raises serious ethical consequences that cannot be ignored.  While this novel method of doping is legal in theory (because narcotics are not banned outside of competition), it is potentially very dangerous:  it is no secret that opiates are highly addictive (throughout history, people as brilliant as Charles Dickens, and as, um, not-brilliant as Rush Limbaugh, have become addicted to them).  And it should also be emphasized that this novel form of performance enhancement is only legal in principle; as the authors of the study were swift to ask:  do opioid-mediated placebo effects during competitions have to be considered a doping procedure?  If the placebo effect is as robust as the results of the study suggest, then I think that this form of pharmacological preconditioning has to be considered nothing less than cheating.

How effective is hydrogen as an energy source?

•November 25, 2009 • 2 Comments

With gasoline prices beginning to skyrocket, and with the new charge to have renewable resources, hydrogen has been seen as a forerunner to replacing gasoline and other fossil fuels.  However, is hydrogen really the future of energy in the United States and the world?  How beneficial would hydrogen implementation be in our society?  Currently, the benefits do not seem to outweigh the costs.

 

There are two main ways to implement hydrogen energy to power vehicles: either directly into a modified combustion engine, or via fuel cells.  Currently the Hydrogen Car Company is selling “Shelby Cobras” that include a top speed of 140 mph and 0-60 mph in four seconds.  However, there is a downside to the car.  The hydrogen’s tank range is only 80 miles.  Hydrogen tanks are also very expensive to construct.  It costs around four thousand dollars to construct the actual tank and then another thousand dollars to construct a special shutoff valve for the tank.  Also, these cars cost around one hundred thousand dollars to buy.

 

Another issue is the problem with refueling these expensive, yet eco-friendly, cars.  Currently there are only around a dozen fueling stations in the state of California (where the cobras have been implemented), with the state planning on building another two hundred or so by the end of 2010.  However, a kilogram of hydrogen fuel can cost anywhere from a dollar to forty dollars to buy.1 Storage is also hazardous (as hydrogen gas is explosive), so many places have been limited by their storage facilities.

 

While some have seen fuel cells as the new revolution in hydrogen energy, recently researchers at the Carnegie Institution have discovered a new way to store hydrogen by reacting it with Xenon.  Xenon has been shown to react with H2 gas under certain pressures creating a solid that exhibits unusual bonding chemistry.  The discovery of this new material could signal a debut in new hydrogen energy technologies, including improvements in fuel cells and storage of hydrogen for use in vehicles.

 

The researchers subjected the gas to a pressure of nearly 41,000 times that of regular atmospheric pressure!   The lattice structure formed at this pressure was composed of both xenon and hydrogen atoms with hydrogen dominating the structure with some layers of xenon interspersed.  Differing pressures changed the spacing of the atoms in the solid.  To verify these solids, researchers used X-Ray diffraction, Infrared, and Raman spectroscopy, which are specific techniques used to classify crystalline compounds.2

Snapshot 2009-11-25 14-21-53

Figure 1: Xenon/Hydrogen crystalline structure.

However, what is interesting about the specific compound formed via this process is the relative stability of it.  Xenon, which has several uses including in anesthetics, in preserving biological tissues, and in lighting, is usually very unreactive.  Hydrogen gas, however, is explosive and very reactive.  However, the elements seem to have a weird effect that helps stabilize each other when combined at very high pressures.  The new solid represents a significant advancement in the storage of hydrogen in hydrogen rich solids, with the possibility of using these solids in fuel cells.  As one researcher put it “This hydrogen-rich solid represents a new pathway to forming novel hydrogen storage compounds and the new pressure-induced chemistry opens the possibility of synthesizing new energetic materials.”2

 

Even with this new advancement in hydrogen storage, it seems highly unlikely that any form of hydrogen energy will be seen in the near future.  While being “Green” and “Enviro-friendly” are certainly great benefits to hydrogen energy, the financial burden on people wanting to buy these cars is astronomical.  Even if hydrogen energy peaked someone’s interest in buying a hydrogen car, refueling it for use seems to be an impossibility at the current time.  However, with the new advances in hydrogen storage and increases in energy obtained from hydrogen, hydrogen fuel could be the next great advancement finding a replacement for fossil fuels.

Sources:

  1. http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/4563676/
  2. http://www.nature.com/nchem/journal/vaop/ncurrent/abs/nchem.445.html
  3. http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2009/11/091122161751.htm