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It is known that everywhere in the solar system - with the exception of what I will discuss below - the ratios between two isotopes, C-12, and C-13 (both of which are stable nuclei) is approximately 99 to 1.   The ratio can vary very slightly, on the order of a few parts per thousand, and precise measurements of these tiny variations can tell us something about the history of particular carbon species and give insight to questions about the temperatures of their formation, for instance.   But around here, and by "around here" I mean at least out to the orbit of Saturn (probably further) the ratio is 99:1.

However, in the universe as a whole, this ratio is now understood to vary widely, from ratios 1:1 to 5 orders of magnitude higher, 100,000 to 1, as I learned from a recent lecture given by Larry Nittler of the Carnegie Institution (who did a very credible job substituting for Ernst Zinner, the announced speaker at this symposium).    This has been learned as the outgrowth of a discovery some 24 years ago, that many ancient meteorites (as well as dust collected by spacecraft and by high altitude aircraft) contain tiny inclusions called "presolar grains" which are small fragments of cooled plasma that have formed in one of three ways, supernovae explosions, nova explosions or in AGB stars.   The latter type of stars - AGB stands for asymtotic giant branch - are not particularly exotic.   Your sun, after powering Amory Lovins cars for a few billion miles or a few billion years (which ever comes first) will ultimately become an AGB star.

It turns out that the distribution of these particles - about 100,000 such particles have been analyzed since their discovery - can offer many insights into stellar evolution, and can work to confirm theoretical nuclear physics calculations involved in said evolution that were hitherto purely mathematical abstractions and were long though to be beyond the realm of experimental laboratory confirmation.   These particles contain "nuclear fossils" represented by extinct nuclei like aluminum-26 (half life approximately 700,000 years) and titanium-44 (half-life about 60 years), as well as isotopic distribution of isotopes of oxygen (which has three stable isotopes, 16, 17, and 18) and nitrogen (which has two stable isotopes, 14 and 15) as well as the carbon already mentioned.

The fact that we exist at all depends very subtly on a number of factors for which we don't have very much appreciation.  

Two fellows, John Barrow and Frank Tipler wrote a provocative monograph on this topic entitled The Anthropic Cosmological Principle that argues that the value of a fundemental constant of the universe, the fine structure constant implies that humanity must exist.

(I wrote a diary here that was to some extent about the fine structure constant, Oh.  Oh.  Plutonium Contamination Suspected.   Blogging about science is a very, very, very, very bad idea.)

The book in any case is a fun read which posits a "theory" that is not testable and thus is more philosophy than science, although one could argue the same way about a lot of fairly sophisticated sciences.   At it's best this idea is stimulating, at its worst, it degenerates into pure mysticism and gobbleygook used to argue for dubious faith based stuff like "intelligent design."   From my limited knowledge, I suspect that Frank Tipler may have gone over the edge, but I'm not qualified to state so definitively.

Anyway, it happens that our existance also depends very sensitively on the isotopic distribution of the elements.   I had a nice chat today with a fellow at his poster - he works in one of those probably doomed pharmaceutical giants - about this stuff, isotopic distributions in common elements.    We discussed the fact that one (non-radioactive) isotope of hydrogen, deuterium, is actually toxic in large quantities because it slows down proton transfers in proteins.    (He was studying proteins containing another rare isotope, oxygen-18.)   If deuterium were not a trace isotope in the solar region (which is not every in the universe) it is very unlikely that life as we know it could exist.

One might have argued that theories of stellar evolution - although to some extent based clearly on constructs assembled by very detailed observation, and assembled by the world's greatest minds - have been speculative.   In particular, there is really no way to experimentally observe a stellar collapse or, um, is there?

At various times, if I recall correctly, I have discussed the origin of the chemical elements here, since the subject fascinates me because of my general interest in nuclear chemistry, despite the fact that people who know nothing at all about nuclear chemistry hate the science in a rote fashion and often express this hatred for this science here, often to general applause.   There are four processes that account for the elements, one being the "Big Bang" - the name "Big Bang" was viewed by the person who coined it, in a fashion similar to how the art movement called "Impressionism" was originally a derisive name that stuck.   "The Big Bang" accounts for the existance of hydrogen with impurities of helium and lithium.   None of these elements are actually stable, although two of them represent the bulk of the matter in the universe.  

The only truly stable element is iron, since its binding energy is such that lighter elements that fuse into it (or lower elements) will release energy, and heavier elements splitting to form it will absorb energy.   Stars that are roughly the size of our sun will fuse light elements like hydrogen into helium, and can carry out this process for periods as long as ten billion years.   Ultimately such stars run out of hydrogen.   The fusion of two helium atoms into beryllium-8 is actually endothermic and consumes significant energy, (helium-4 is actually more stable than any of the elements near it, including hydrogen, lithium, and beryllium - it is the only nuclei that has a neutron capture cross section of zero)  and thus the gravitational pressure inside a star must become great enough that it is statistically possible for three helium nuclei to collide simultaneously to form.

At the point that a star begins to rely on helium burning it actually expands to a very large extent and becomes a red giant - the AGB star referred to in the introduction - when our sun reaches this point its surface will actually extend beyond the orbit of the earth which, of course, will be vaporized.    Elements up to iron are synthesized in this phase, as mentioned above, but actually some heavier elements result from what is called the "s process" or slow process.   Even though hydrogen is largely depleted at this phase, traces of it still exist, and when residual hydrogen (or helium or other elements) fuse with iron (or when other other elements close in weight to iron fuse) the resulting nuclei can be heavier than iron.   This process also takes place because of the many neutrons that are available from nuclear reactions in stars.  The new nuclei will decay by beta (or positron) decay and may absorb energy - since in a star reams of energy are available) and overshoot the iron "limit."   Thus elements like cobalt, copper, zinc and beyond will be formed even in ordinary stars, albeit in smaller quantities than elements that occur before iron in the periodic table.   Theoretically (although probably not practically) this process can result in elements as heavy as lead, but none heavier, because of the extremely short half life of elements like francium which are too unstable to wait around for a "slow" process.

Because of nuclear physics quirks that are beyond the scope of this very simplistic diary, it happens that the distribution of isotopes of elements will be different when formed in this process than in other processes.   In the talk I attended there were many plots of ratios of carbon, nitrogen and oxygen isotope ratios found in these stardust inclusions, and the plots all had very distinct regions of concentration.

The r-process (or rapid purpose) takes place when a star that is at least 10 times more massive than our sun depletes all of the light elements up to iron and begins to collapse gravitationally.    This process takes place catastrophically and the rebound of this collapse accounts for supernova.    As a supernova happens, enormous amounts of energy are generated, and a tremendous flux of neutrons and heavy nuclei are available.   It can be shown that the r process produces elements as heavy as californium (element 98) which can persist for millions of years.    One plutonium isotope, the 244 isotope is so long lived that it is known to have been present in significant quantities during the formation of the earth.   The "nuclear fossil" of this plutonium is present in our atmosphere (and many very old rocks) in the form of certain xenon isotopes.

A star the size of our sun that collapses will become a white dwarf, consisting largely of what is called "electron degenerate" matter.   A discussion of this type of matter is also beyond the scope of this diary, but suffice it to say that white dwarfs have the mass (approximately) of our sun in the volume of our earth.   Sometimes white dwarfs will approach another star (as part of a binary system) that they will actually gravitationally rip matter off the surface of the star.   This event which is very bright, but long lasting is called a nova, but is not, um, "super."    This is also an element forming process, and nuclear fossils of this process are largely represented by silicon and magnesium isotope distributions.

The clearest nuclear fossil of a supernova is the isotope calcium-44.   This nuclear fossil can only be formed in a supernova type event and initially the element that is formed is not calcium, but is the neutron deficient unstable isotope titanium-44, which has a half-life of 63 years.   Titanium decays by the release of an anti-electron, a positron, to scandium-44 which as a half-life of 3.927 hours and itself decays by positron emission to give calcium-44.

In the solar system, this is a relatively rare isotope of calcium:   Only 2.086% of the calcium in your bones is this isotope.  The vast majority of calcium on earth is calcium-40, which is still being synthesized on this planet because of the decay of naturally occuring radioactive potassium-40, along with the nuclei of argon-40, which represents about 1% of earth's atmosphere.   (The nuclear stability rules predict that actually calcium-40 is metastable and will prove - although its not been observed - to be very slightly radioactive, with a half-life much lonnger than the universe as a whole.)

However there are presolar grains in which the calcium is pure calcium-44, meaning conclusively that this isotope must have started out as titanium-44, undergone chemical fractionation not available to calcium formed or expelled in supernova, generally as titanium carbide, and subsequently decayed to calcium.

Dr. Nittler closed his presentation with a photograph of a young and very beautiful Joni Mitchell and her famous song "Woodstock" about a concert (as Dr. Nittler wryly commented) that she didn't attend.   (Maybe in the back of his mind was discussions by lay people of nuclear science about which they know nothing.)  

Her lines, which appeal to all scientists interested in stellar evolution where

We are stardust
We are golden,
billion year old carbon.

(OK, we'll leave out the part about being golden.)

Because of his work and the work of his peers like Dr. Zimmer, we can now do nuclear fossil astronomy in earthbound laboratories and make a fairly good estimation how the carbon in our bodies formed, basically what kind of carbon we are.

It turns out that the carbon in our flesh mostly formed - about 90% of it - in AGB stars.  The bulk of the rest formed in supernova, with trace amounts formed in ordinary nova.

So, if you think you're a star, you're right, but very little of you is actually the brilliant star you think you are.

Have a nice evening and a nice day tomorrow.


How likely is it that you will burn out?

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Comment Preferences

    •  Stopped reading partway in to get down here (5+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      NNadir, bythesea, Bob Love, ybruti, Athenian

      to request that you do some serious editing, starting with a spel-chekur ("existance," "fundemental"), & continuing thus:

      The only truly stable element is iron, since its binding energy is such that lighter elements that fuse into it (or lower elements) will release energy, and heavier elements splitting to form it will absorb energy.
      I gather you're trying to express the fact that since iron lies at the bottom of the curve of binding energy, producing it (via fission or fusion) will release energy & producing anything from it (via fission or fusion) will absorb energy? In which case, isn't the part in bold, um, incorrect? (Or am I missing the point here?)


      Even though hydrogen is largely depleted at this phase, traces of it still exist, and when residual hydrogen (or helium or other elements) fuse with iron (or when other other elements close in weight to iron fuse) the resulting nuclei can be heavier than hydrogen.
      That last "hydrogen" ought to be "iron," n'est-ce pas? I know, it's late, we're tired, etc.

      (OK. Going back now to finish what has been a very interesting diary...)

      snarcolepsy, n: a condition in which the sufferer responds to any comment with a smartass comeback.

      by Uncle Cosmo on Tue Jun 07, 2011 at 08:36:32 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

    •  Also-- (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      NNadir, bythesea
      Ultimately such stars run out of helium.
      --you meant hydrogen, nyet? (Since you hadn't gotten to the triple-alpha process at this point?)

      Sorry if it seems like nitpicking, but I appreciate your diaries & want them to be spiffy & sparkling in every way so that others will as well...

      snarcolepsy, n: a condition in which the sufferer responds to any comment with a smartass comeback.

      by Uncle Cosmo on Tue Jun 07, 2011 at 08:39:19 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

    •  Edit needed? (0+ / 0-)

      8th paragraph?

       If deuterium were not a trace isotope in the solar region (which is not every in the universe) it is very unlikely that life as we know it could exist.

      (bold mine)

      everywhere? even? Could have very different meanings!

      Darn those spellcheckers?

      Otherwise, very interesting read!

      I am much too liberal to be a Democrat.

      by WiseFerret on Tue Jun 07, 2011 at 09:50:27 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  Radioactive titanium, radioactive stars... (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Bob Love, jessical

    radioactive calcium, radioactive anything, neutron fluxes, proton fluxes, fluxes of naked totally ionized nuclei of any sort, nuclei in general, clouds of titanium carbide vapors, condensing vapors, hidden origins of everything we are and know from radioactive stuff, ordinary but stable hide rates, and exotic, isotopically pure troll rates all go here.

  •  Best second-to-last paragraph evah . . . (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    NNadir, side pocket, majcmb1

    and I can't believe I actually read this whole diary and mostly understood it. And I ain't got none of that astrophysics book-learnin' . . .

    •  Thanks. And thanks for reading a science diary. (5+ / 0-)

      I am very concerned for the status of science in this country.

      I'm hanging out with a lot of scientists this week, and we've all been discussing it.

      I know lots of scientists who don't want their kids in science, which is awful.

      •  paragraph eight, below the fold, (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:

        third sentence, I think you meant "run out of Hydrogen".

        Regarding Joan not being at Woodstock, correct . . . but Dr. Zimmer's reference was probably to the fact that he had just finished a lecture talking about events he didn't participate in either . . .

        Fake Left, Drive Right . . . not my idea of a Democrat . . .

        by Deward Hastings on Tue Jun 07, 2011 at 08:55:43 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  Well, there's always reference to project stages: (3+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          Bob Love, kurt, Boreal Ecologist

          Stage 1:  Enthusiasm.

          Stage 2:  Disillusionment.

          Stage 3:  Search for the guilty.

          Stage 4:  Punishment of the innocent.

          Stage 5:  Praise and honors for the non-participants.

          One of the labs in which  I worked early in my career has a poster featuring those stages.    I was too young to appreciate it.

        •  Who cares about Joni Mitchell? (0+ / 0-)

          It was all about HENDRIX!

          Dr. Isaac Asimov: "The most exciting phrase to hear in science, the one that heralds new discoveries, is not 'Eureka!' but 'That's funny ...'"

          by davidwalters on Wed Jun 08, 2011 at 08:22:55 AM PDT

          [ Parent ]

  •  Oh Come On, Zero Parts Per Quintillion Gold (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    NNadir, FishOutofWater

    in the human body? There's gotta be some.

    In fact we're caught in a Devil's bargain, and we've got to get ourselves back to the garden.

    We are called to speak for the weak, for the voiceless, for victims of our nation and for those it calls enemy.... --ML King "Beyond Vietnam"

    by Gooserock on Tue Jun 07, 2011 at 08:08:38 PM PDT

    •  Point well taken. Actually I have gold teeth. (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      bythesea, kurt

      Howver, I'm such a massive object, the quantity is still trace.

      I happen to be away from home right now, and I'm sure this can be answered by simple googling, but, in fact, you are right, but I don't have the numbers handy on this computer.

      Gold is present in seawater, and at certain prices - if sustained - it can actually be isolated from seawater.

      So I'll cut Joni a break, although - even though she seems to be whining in the poll - she couldn't care less about what I think.

      But the line about carbon is actually one among her many cerebral lyrics.

  •  Element running out? Superatoms can mimic them (6+ / 0-)

    When the elements we need aren't around, why don't we just make some?

    An Alchemist's Dream: Superatoms Mimic Elements

    ( -- Dr. Will Castleman and his team have discovered clusters of atoms that mimic some of the properties of other elements. Called "superatoms," these clusters of atoms behave like a single "superatom" of a different species, and they may have implications as significant as the alchemists' search for gold...

    Superatom clusters could serve as building blocks for new materials that are cheaper and more effective than materials currently being used as catalysts in chemical processing, and in the catalytic converters of automobiles. They may even have potential as new sources of energy.

    The superatom concept was observed in studies involving aluminum clusters where, depending on the number of aluminum atoms constituting the cluster, reactivity patterns would emerge mimicking the chemistry associated with isolated elements...

    Electron configurations key to mimicking phenomenon:

    Castleman and his team have shown that certain combinations of elemental atoms have electron configurations that mimic those of other elements. The researchers also showed that the atoms that have been identified so far in these mimicry events can be predicted simply by looking at the periodic table...

    ..They found that superatoms mimicking other elements could be predicted by simple arithmetic.

    Titanium, for example, has four outer-shell electrons, atomic oxygen has six. So move six elements to the right of titanium and you're at nickel, whose 10 outer-shell electrons make it isoelectronic with titanium oxide.

    Assuming this finding must be a coincidence, Castleman and his team tried it with other atoms and found a definite pattern. Castleman said he doesn't know if the pattern will be repeated across the entire periodic table. Right now, he and his team are working through the transition-metal atoms.

    So why use a different element if the actual element is available? First, the element mimic might be less expensive, as in the case of palladium, which, at $100 a gram, is used as a catalyst in jet engines.

    At two cents a gram, zirconium oxide would be a worthy substitute. Dr. Castleman and his team are pursing this through a U.S Air Force grant.

    Element rare?  No problem!  Get what it does without getting it itself!

    This message brought to you by Your New Weird Future Where We're Beginning To Manipulate Materials In Ways We've Never Imagined.

    And by the miracle material Graphene.

    •  Well, if true, that's an interesting concept. (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      el cid

      I'm not exactly sure how they're conceiving of these species being "isoelectronic."

      I'll check it out.

      In any case nitrogen and carbon monoxide, for one example are very different things.

      But yes, graphene is a very, very interesting material.

      Another interesting allotrope of carbon is "glassy carbon" which also has very interesting material science applications.   I've been very interested in this material and have collected and read a number of papers on it.

      And then there's CVD diamond, for which we may expect big things in the future, assuming there is a future, something I increasingly doubt.

      Thanks.  Your comment is very interesting.

      •  The freakish miracle power of graphene (3+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        NNadir, Dauphin, kurt

        It's almost a joke now, but after I noticed the appearance of graphene in so many weird-news science articles, I've begun paying extra attention.  I've actually become a fan.  Or am looking for a certain type of entertainment.

        It's more or less each week that someone somewhere announces a new yet formerly impossible use for graphene.

        In fact, it's so ridiculous I now find it funny.

        I don't even have to source the articles below;  just go to Google News and search for graphene.  This all comes up.


        It's a flexible ultra-thin material 300 times stronger than steel.  It's so thin it's considered the only existant 2-dimensional solid.

        How about making it into cheap sheets of 'graphene paper', which would be much better and stronger and lighter to use in the construction of anything using steel or metal now, particularly aircraft and vehicles and such?  Did I mention better for the environment?

        TEHRAN (FNA)- An Iranian researcher from Sydney's University of Technology presented a method for the production of a strong and light nanocomposite based on graphite, called graphene paper...

        ...They produced a very tough, hard, and bendable material through a synthetic method and thermal process. Graphene is six times lighter than steel but twice harder. Also, its tensile strength is 10 times higher, its density is six times lower, and its resistance against bending is 13 times bigger than those of steel.

        "Nobody has ever used a similar method and thermal test in order to obtain such mechanical properties. We are ahead of other researchers in this part. Since this synthetic graphene has wonderful mechanical properties, it can be used for various engineering and commercial purposes," Ranjbar said, adding, "The synthesized material is not only tougher, lighter, harder, and more flexible than steel but it can also produce recyclable products that are biodegradable and cheaper."

        Electrons move faster in graphene than in any other substance.  Graphene magically (might as well be) allows electrons to impossibly moving at near light speeds (relativistically) as if they had no mass. Which also leads to the ability to study quantum physics in previously unimaginable ways:

        Graphene holds enormous promise for transistors and other electronic devices (see main text). But it is already making an impact in the arcane world of high-energy physics. That's because when electrons move through graphene, they act as if their mass is zero—behavior that makes them look more like neutrinos streaking through space near the speed of light.

        At such "relativistic" speeds, particles don't follow the usual rules of quantum mechanics. So physicists realized several years ago that the novel material might provide a test bed for studying relativistic physics in the lab.

        A replacement for silicon in electronics, using far less power but allowing much faster operation.

        In fact, the most experimental graphene chips are more than twice as fast as the most developed silicon chips.

        It's the thinnest solid lubricant, providing the friction-reducing activity of graphite, but just a few molecules thick.  You know, in case you want those new nano-machines to keep working.

        Or according to the patent application:

        Although Minimum Quantity Lubrication (MQL) techniques can be very successful, extreme machining conditions can lead to, among other things, high thermal loads, which cannot be mediated by current MQL lubricants.

        The present inventors have found that by incorporating nanographene (formed by the embodiments disclosed herein) into such lubricants, many of the negative effects encountered in processes when MQL lubricants are used alone are reduced or eliminated.

        For example, the nanographene-containing lubricants disclosed herein advantageously reduce the grinding force typically required in processes using standard MQL lubricants (i.e., without nanographene), improve surface roughness and wear resistance of a surface exposed to the lubricant when compared to surfaces exposed to standard MQL lubricants, and reduce or eliminate burning of a workpiece that may otherwise result when standard MQL lubricants are used.

        How about a new fantastically more capable category of supercapacitor, combining the long-term energy storage of batteries, the ultra-short discharge and recharge times of capacitors, yet capable of much more energy than either?

        Weren't we looking for some way of storing power such as solar-produced when not needed, and couldn't find good ways of doing so?

        South Korean scientists said Monday that they have developed a new type of power storage technology using nitrogen and graphene that could speed up growth in next-generation electric cars and smart power grids...

        ...[T]he new nitrogen-doped graphene supercapacitor displayed twice the energy storage capability of conventional capacitors in laboratory tests.

        A capacitor is a device that stores an electric charge with far greater output than ordinary rechargeable batteries. It, however, usually has relatively low energy storage capacity...

        ...[The lead researcher said that the massive improvement in energy storage produced by nitrogen doping] could allow such capacitors to be used in cars and conventional power grids.

        He said that tests conducted with the supercapacitor showed no change in its capabilities even after the device was charged and discharged 230,000 times.

        "Because graphene is flexible, the capacitor developed could be used to store power in clothing," the scientists said.

        Another bizarre property is that graphene's electrical conductivity can be shut off with laser lightillumination. So an on-off sequence could be pretty easy to control.

        What's more, this would be a very easy way of transitioning optical computing to electronic computing:

        Their simulations show that a laser in the midinfrared can open an observable bandgap in this otherwise gapless material. “Imagine that by turning-on the light, graphene conduction is turned-off or viceversa. This allows the transduction of optical into electrical signals” says Luis Foa Torres, the researcher leading this collaboration who adds: “The problem of graphene interacting with radiation is also of current interest for the understanding of more exotic states of matter such as the topological insulators. Indeed, it is expected that, under certain conditions, a graphene sample illuminated by a laser behaves as a topological insulator”.

        Would you like to speed up any technology involving data transmission, such as fiber-optic based internet communications maybe 10,000 times faster than current copper cabling?  

        Don't like the bulk of today's best optical modulating materials which can't fit on a computer chip?  And you don't want to pay thousands of dollars, but maybe a dollar instead?  And maybe make enough of them to supply an entire nation's worth of products for a while out of a single pencil lead?

        Then maybe use graphene as the fastest ever polarizing switcher for fiber optic signalling.

        Oh, and did I mention it's not restricted to any particular light frequencies or bands?

        A team from Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory led by Chinese-American professor Zhang Xiang has developed a broadband technology so fast it would enable the download of an entire 3D movie in only a few seconds.

        The breakthrough, which could be available to consumers in three to five years, was made possible by the team's invention of a graphene-based optical modulator.

        With one-atom-thick sheets of carbon densely packed in a honeycomb crystal lattice, the modulator is 100 times faster than conventional optical devices in use today...


        "Instead of broadband, we will have 'extremeband'," said Zhang. "What we see here and going forward with graphene-based modulators are tremendous improvements, not only in consumer electronics, but in any field that is now limited by data transmission speeds."...

        ...Current designs also pose challenges due to their large size, cost and high sensitivity to temperature.

        The lithium niobate device is too big to be put in a computer chipset, but a graphene optical modulator could be tiny enough - just 25 square microns, some 400 times smaller than the thickness of a human hair.

        Zhang believed that they made "the world's smallest optical modulator".

        Liu said it is so small it can be easily be placed anywhere in a computer.

        As well, lithium niobate modulators cost $4,000 to $5,000, but the graphene device "could be made for less than a dollar", said Liu.

        "The graphite in a pencil can provide enough graphene to fabricate 1 billion optical modulators," he added.

        Or maybe the best method of providing a structureon which stem cells could grow to form new tissue or even an organ?

        In fact, it appears to actually aid stem cells in cell differentiation, for reasons unknown.

        "In our work, we show that graphene can be used in a more active way in biomedical applications, i.e. it can control the fate of a stem cell," Barbaros Özyilmaz, an assistant professor in the Department of Physics at National University of Singapore (NUS), explains to Nanowerk.

        "The reason why this actually happens is not clear, but it is almost certainly due to a mix of the many outstanding and unique properties of the graphene sheet, i.e. its 2D nature, its mechanical, chemical and electrical properties."

        Özyilmaz points out that the downside of this lack of understanding is that it is hard to pinpoint why exactly the use of graphene leads to stem cell differentiation...

        ..."We found that that graphene does not hamper the normal growth of stem cells and that the incorporation of this material in implants or injured tissues would not affect the physiological conditions of the microenvironment" notes Özyilmaz. "We also could demonstrate in our experiment that graphene is the driving force of bone cell formation, regardless of the underlying substrate."

        "Remarkably, graphene accelerates cell differentiation even in the absence of commonly used additional growth factors such as BMP-2" says Özyilmaz.

        "Taking into consideration both the intrinsic mechanical properties of graphene and the striking results of our study, we envisage a functional role of this new material as a versatile platform for future biomedical applications in general and stem cell therapies in particular."

    •  The Singularity must be near! nt (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      el cid

      "I was a big supporter of waterboarding" - Dick Cheney 2/14/10

      by Bob Love on Tue Jun 07, 2011 at 10:27:28 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  It's better to burn out (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Bob Love, jessical

    Metallic iron is unstable because rust never sleeps. FWIW nothing is stable inside the Swarzschild radius. Stability is a function of temperature & pressure.

    look for my eSci diary series Thursday evening. "It's the planet, stupid."

    by FishOutofWater on Tue Jun 07, 2011 at 08:29:29 PM PDT

    •  The nature of anything inside the Schwarzchild... (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Uncle Cosmo

      ...radius is purely speculative, since it is by definition impossible to observe.

      That has stopped lots of wildly popular speculation on the point, including points about what "stability" might mean there.  

      Iron is however - and probably one could include nickel here - the most stable observable universe.

      I'll be honest and state that before attending the lecture, I kind of thought that the majority of elements on earth originated in supernovae - because I haven't really seriously studied stellar evolution and mechanisms of element distributions from various types of stars - although my youngest son is very interested in it.   It should have been intuitively obvious, on reflection, given the number of iron objects in the universe that supernovae probably are only minor contributors.   However because of my interest in actinides, I tend to think more about the origin of uranium, thorium and plutonium, so there was probably some selection bias on my part.

      However when I get home, I will access papers on this topic.   It's very interesting.

      •  Moi aussi (3+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        NNadir, jessical, kurt
        before attending the lecture, I kind of thought that the majority of elements on earth originated in supernovae - because I haven't really seriously studied stellar evolution and mechanisms of element distributions from various types of stars
        The seminal paper is the famous B2FH of 1957, which is what I remember from my year in an astrophysics PhD program (long enough ago that the buttons on our Frieden calculators were labeled in Roman numerals). Upon reflection it makes much more sense to cook up the lighter "metals" (NB to an astrophysicist any element heavier than helium is a "metal") somewhere there's lots of helium for building blocks, & that would be the He-burning shell of an AGB star.

        I ran across the Barrow-Tipler book years & years ago, & you may be right about the latter going off the deep end, but Barrow seems to have survived more or less intact. NB there are different flavors of the Anthropic Principle, & almost no one will argue with the weak form, which boils down to observer bias: We see certain structural features in the universe because if they didn't exist we wouldn't be around to see anything. That's a helluva lot different from the strong form, which holds that the universe is specifically arranged so as to permit the evolution of intelligence.

        It's interesting to note that the fellow who coined the term "Big Bang" as a tag of derision--Fred (later Sir Fred) Hoyle --is also credited with making the first scientific prediction based purely on the anthropic principle. In 1954 he predicted a hitherto-unobserved resonance involving the helium-4, beryllium-8, and carbon-12 nuclei at about 7.6 MeV--because unless such a resonance existed, the triple-alpha process wouldn't work & there wouldn't be enough carbon in the universe for for carbon-based life like us to exist. When the physicists looked, there it was.

        Hoyle's prediction is ... a genuine scientific prediction, tested and confirmed by SUBSEQUENT experiments. Hoyle said, in effect, 'since we exist, then carbon must have an energy level at 7.6 MeV.' THEN the experiments were carried out and the energy level was measured. As far as we know, this is the only genuine anthropic principle prediction; all the rest are 'predictions' that MIGHT have been made in advance of the observations, if anyone had had the genius to make them, but that were never in fact made that way.
        Here's a nice little webpage with that quote & the rest of the story.

        snarcolepsy, n: a condition in which the sufferer responds to any comment with a smartass comeback.

        by Uncle Cosmo on Tue Jun 07, 2011 at 11:17:04 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  Thanks for that informative and stimulating... (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          Uncle Cosmo


          I wasn't aware that it was Hoyle played that role in triple alpha fusion.

          I always learn from stuff people post in my diaries.

          I should really go to sleep - I've taken my "business trip" Ambien - now but may stay up a little longer to see what else I can learn about.

          •  Went to a lecture by Hoyle during that PhD year (1+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:

            Don't remember what he spoke about, but I do remember what happened when he was muttering & no one in the audience had the nerve to ask him to speak louder...funny story.

            Another funny story:

            The great physicist Wolfgang Pauli died & went to Heaven, where he was escorted into a classroom with YHWH Hisownself standing behind a huuuuuge black book. "Well, Dr Pauli," He said, "I'm sure you have many questions as to how I designed the Universe, and I'm here to answer them."

            Pauli immediately asked, "Why 137?"

            God smiled. "I knew you'd ask," and He opened the big book to the center. "It's all right there, starting in the middle of the page. Have a look."

            Pauli fairly leaped to the desk & began reading, a huge smile on his face--which gradually faded as he read the second page, and turned to the third--

            Suddenly he straightened up, jabbed his finger at a formula & with a look of disgust turned to the Creator and said:

            Das ist falsch!*

            ( * German for This is wrong!)

            snarcolepsy, n: a condition in which the sufferer responds to any comment with a smartass comeback.

            by Uncle Cosmo on Tue Jun 07, 2011 at 11:49:23 PM PDT

            [ Parent ]

            •  Das ist der beste Witz, den ich in dem langer (1+ / 0-)
              Recommended by:
              Uncle Cosmo

              Zeit gehört habe.

              I will definitely steal that joke.

              •  Also mussten Sie im langer Zeit (1+ / 0-)
                Recommended by:

                nur schlimme Witz gehören!

                Wear it in good health, don't spend it all in one place, etc. (Somehow I knew you'd be enthralled when the magic number appeared...)

                Pauli, who was infamous for demolishing bad physics (& bad physicists), once said of someone's idea that it was so bad it "wasn't even wrong". (By which he meant, IIRC, that it was too vague or imprecise to be vulnerable to falsification.)

                snarcolepsy, n: a condition in which the sufferer responds to any comment with a smartass comeback.

                by Uncle Cosmo on Wed Jun 08, 2011 at 06:55:51 PM PDT

                [ Parent ]

                •  And now we live in a time where ideas not (0+ / 0-)

                  subject to falsification are all emperors wearing new clothes.

                  Someday I intend to crawl out of my black hole.

                  Thanks for the bits of history.   I enjoy them very much.

  •  deuterium and life (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    NNadir, Uncle Cosmo

    There are many fundamental ratios which have a suspiciously anthropic smell (especially the small cosmological constant) but the H/D ratio ain't one of them. Seriously- think about it a minute. On earth you've got life adapted to an enormous range of temperature, pressure, redox potential, salinity, pH,.... Yet you think that life couldn't have adapted to D, presumably because its lower zero-point motion gives slightly different rates and equilibrium constants than H? The reason life can't deal with much D is obvious- on earth it hasn't had the opportunity. Compared to actual evolutionary challenges, adapting to D would be trivial, given a reasonable amount of time.

    Michael Weissman UID 197542

    by docmidwest on Tue Jun 07, 2011 at 08:31:27 PM PDT

  •  You say: (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Bob Love, HamdenRice
    There are four processes that account for the elements, one being the "Big Bang" - the name "Big Bang" was viewed by the person who coined it, in a fashion similar to how the art movement called "Impressionism" was originally a derisive name that stuck.   "The Big Bang" accounts for the existance of hydrogen with impurities of helium and lithium.   None of these elements are actually stable, although two of them represent the bulk of the matter in the universe.  

    The only truly stable element is iron, since its binding energy is such that lighter elements that fuse into it (or lower elements) will release energy, and heavier elements splitting to form it will absorb energy.

    That's where I stopped reading, although this is a very interesting topic for me.

    This is beyond incoherent. You need to learn to write precisely. Hydrogen and Helium are obviously not unstable. And the rest of that is just plain crap.

    It is a do things about injustice.... It helps to have a goal. I've always tried to have one.--Ted Kennedy, True Compass

    by Timaeus on Tue Jun 07, 2011 at 09:34:12 PM PDT

    •  Really? You're, um, "interested" in this topic? (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      el cid, Trotskyrepublican, gzodik

      I threw this diary out after attending a plenary session lecture in a huge hall with about 2 or 3 thousand scientists in it.

      I don't think there were 3 of them in the entire audience who couldn't understand that for the entire history of the universe, the sum of hydrogen and helium atoms in it has been rapidly decreasing.

      I don't think there were five of them who didn't understand in context that helium and hydrogen are unstable, and if they were stable that there would be no such thing as a visible universe.

      In fact, my youngest son is just finishing sixth grade, and I'm very sure that he would understand my remarks perfectly.

      The value of literature depends not only on the level not only of the level of the writer but also on the level of the reader.   This readily apparent fact is often overlooked in our times of extreme intellectual laziness.  

      You might well consider where the onus for the apparent "incomprehensibility" lies.

      If it's over your head, that's not my problem.

      To be frank, I consider this diary to be at a very low level compared to the lecture to which it refers, and, um, clearly you missed the point.

      If you think that I owe you something - that I "need" to change my writing style for your benefit, let me explain something to you as succinctly as possible:  I couldn't care less what you think about my writing.

      Got it?


      I couldn't care less.

      Right now I'm going through a period where I am increasingly appalled by the general level of scientific literacy in this country.   I am very afraid for my country.  I've discussed this with lots of the scientists I've met this weekend, and almost none of them think my concern unfounded.

      Um, you're remarks do nothing to dispell my concern; if anything they confirm my fears.   Frankly when people say stuff like what you said, it scares the hell out of me because you hear these kinds of things all the time.

      I really don't think you're interested in this topic at all because if you were, you would know enough to comment intelligently on it rather than simply whining.

      Have a nice day tomorrow though.

      •  Haldane was right . . . (0+ / 0-)

        it's beyond all of us (but some more than others).

        For all we know the whole shebang is just a high school science experiment in some grander universe . . . and we don't even know if it's a biology class and we're the experiment, or a physics class and it's all for the pyrotechnics (with us being just an unnoticed strangeness below the level of detectability).

        We want to believe that there's some reason (and some order) to it all . . . but there's no reason for that want, or that belief.  It's all too weird . . . even without the quantum effects . . .

        Fake Left, Drive Right . . . not my idea of a Democrat . . .

        by Deward Hastings on Tue Jun 07, 2011 at 11:09:22 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

      •  Most of us somewhat-scientific types (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        HamdenRice, ebohlman

        would read "unstable" to mean "prone to breaking apart," which would strike me as strange for those two species in particular (unless someone's confirmed spontaneous decay of the proton, in which case we're all screwed at some point in the next brazillion years). If on the other hand you mean "changing their relative abundances in the cosmos because they're getting sucked into fusion processes & burned," then that makes sense. But it does seem like something of an unusual way to define (in)stability. JMO.

        snarcolepsy, n: a condition in which the sufferer responds to any comment with a smartass comeback.

        by Uncle Cosmo on Tue Jun 07, 2011 at 11:32:44 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  I tend to see everything in thermodynamic terms. (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:

          In thermodynamics, a process may take place and may even be reversible, but generally, one direction will be preferred.    It does not necessary involve breaking apart, by the way, although breaking apart always increases entropy and thus is slightly favored in entropy terms.

          Now, if I have a mixture of hydrogen and carbon monoxide one outcome is to (in the presence of the right kind of catalyst) for it to all assemble into dimethyl ether.   This process is favored even though the entropy decreases, because it releases energy, generally as heat.

          Arguably a mixture of carbon monoxide and hydrogen is unstable even though, you could in theory mix them and see nothing happen throughout your entire adult life.   They are thus metastable, much like, say, wood.  

          I was referring to hydrogen in the universe.   If it were stable, it would not be spontaneously changing into helium and that into carbon.    Every carbon atom that there is represents 12 or 13 (and sometimes) 14 protons that have spontaneously (more or less) ceased to exist.

          •  IOW it's the abundances that are unstable (0+ / 0-)

            rather than the individual particles themselves. I would read "instability" in a nuclear-physics sese to mean prone to destruction in the absence of any other atom or nucleus. Hydrogen and helium aren't unstable unless you introduce another atom or nucleus; then they're prone to transmutation by fusion (once you get the protons through the Coulomb barrier--good luck with that in any reasonable time outside the center of a star).

            snarcolepsy, n: a condition in which the sufferer responds to any comment with a smartass comeback.

            by Uncle Cosmo on Tue Jun 07, 2011 at 11:57:17 PM PDT

            [ Parent ]

  •  Slightly off topic, (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    but what do you think the odds are that the Germans will stick to their goal of ending nuclear power production there over the next decade?

    •  They have lots of coal, (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      gzodik, NNadir

      and when that's gone they can burn sprouts, or shale gas, or something else safe and clean, and just pretend it's all wind energy.  But Germans don't need energy anyway . . . they can live on the interest from their loans to Greece.

      Note, though, that I'm not NNadir (although we share common threads of cynicism and despair in our thinking), who may have a different answer, possibly involving lutefisk or big (German) apes.

      Fake Left, Drive Right . . . not my idea of a Democrat . . .

      by Deward Hastings on Tue Jun 07, 2011 at 10:59:26 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

    •  I'm past the point of underestimating stupidity. (4+ / 0-)

      Germany is now, and forever will be a gas/coal hellhole.   It's very sad for a nation that at the beginning of the twentieth century was the world's scientific center.

      Boltzmann, Planck, Einstein, Heisenberg, they all wrote in German.

      I don't mean to be racist - and I am partially of German/Austrian extraction, my father, gulp, bore a vague resemblence to Adolf Eichmann - but the Germans have always been a little excitable and prone to, um, mass hysteria.

      I made fun of their science in a recent diary here and their apparent concern with "disproportionate" responses.

      I note that their lettuce apparently killed more people than Fukushima, but who's counting?

      They will do that, just as the Italians did even though Fermi wrote in Italian.   It will be a tragedy not just for the Germans but for every person living on the planet, but I see no way to stop it.

      •  just saw this (0+ / 0-)

        which gives additional perspective on Merkel's decision; perhaps calmer heads will prevail eventually.

        •  The problem actually has nothing to do with (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:


          It has to do with the German public.

          I had the occassion to debate a German scientist on nuclear energy not two hours ago.

          He told me all about killing sheep after Chernobyl blah, blah, blah...

          He's managing investments in (sigh) algae based biofuels.

          We talked a good hour and a half and I'll tell you what, I actually believe that the wheels in his mind are turning and let me tell you something he was quite emotional when I told him that algael biofuels will never be as safe, as clean nor as sustainable as nuclear energy.

          Fukushima is becoming quite useful in thought experiments.    I asked him to imagine the death toll Greenpeace would have predicted if a 9.0 earthquake followed by a 15 meter tsunami, and then we discussed Austrian air during a biomass burning festival in winter.

          His wheels are turning.

          But he has a doctorate and he's been around the industrial and scientific world.

          Nevertheless, the German public may have a more difficult time thinking than even the American public, and that, frankly, is pathetic.

          The German public and the rest of humanity mostly deserves what they are going to get.

          It breaks my heart to know this, as I am human, but I see no way out.

  •  Hi, NNadir. Not a complaint, but a Q: (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    Up at the top, you wrote:

    Two fellows, John Barrow and Frank Tipler wrote a provocative monograph on this topic entitled The Anthropic Cosmological Principle that argues that the value of a fundemental a fundemental constant of the universe, the fine structure constant implies that humanity must exist.

    "a fundemental a fundemental" should simply be "a fundamental constant of the universe, the fine structure constant [insert comma] implies that ..."

    Just trying to get started on reading your work.


  •  A mind is a terrible thing to waste (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    Might have been an interesting diary, but of course, you had to put in blatant falsehoods to get your readers to stop reading, like this:

    despite the fact that people who know nothing at all about nuclear chemistry hate the science in a rote fashion and often express this hatred for this science here, often to general applause.  

    Actually people who know nothing at all about nuclear chemistry would be more likely to not think about it at all.  Anyway, we all know what this means, which I'll paraphrase:






    If you could figure out how to stop wasting your mind on this nonsense, you might, one day, write a decent diary.
  •  two comments... (0+ / 0-)

    The bulk ratio of stable 12 carbon to 13 carbon on Earth is 98.9:1.1, so more like 99:1 than your 89:1.  Perhaps just a typo.

    The confusion about your use of stable, at least to me as an isotope geochemist, stems from how you are using it in the context of a diary that discusses isotopes.  Hydrogen and deuterium are stable isotopes; tritium is a radioactive isotope.  The two common isotopes of helium, 3He and 4He, are both stable isotopes.  As I presume you know based on your diary and your comments, stable isotopes do not undergo radioactive decay.  So to describe H and He as unstable because they can, have, and do undergo fusion is a bit of an unusual use of the concept of stability to me.  The nuclei of H, D, 3He, and 4He are not unstable and will not decay to other nuclei (but those of 3H and the six heavier and rarer isotopes of He that have very short half lives).  I do understand how you are using the term, just not a typical use of the term in isotope chemistry or geochemistry.

    •  I am using the term with respect to the universe. (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      There is evidence that protons decay, but that is not what I am referring to.

      In thermodynamics, many things are metastable, they can persist for a long time.    All reduced carbon is in this form in an oxygen atmosphere meets this condition.   However as we know, it is possible for a chunk of coal to persist for 100's of millions of years without activating energy to make it burn by reacting with oxygen.  

      Excepting the presumed instability of the proton, hydrogen and helium are not stable where there are gravitational incongruities.     These gravitational incongruities, where they result in stars, may be thought of a catalysts that cause hydrogen and or helium to  "burn" to reach a stable state, in which case they are iron or nickel.

  •  I think I see the problem. (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    GDbot, NNadir

    The universe is too irony.

    GOP: Bankers, billionaires and suckers.

    by gzodik on Wed Jun 08, 2011 at 08:03:58 AM PDT

  •  Hey NNadir (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    Your alternate/mirror universe doppelganger, Harvey Wasserman has another fanatically verbose and ignorant harvey wasserman today here...rumor has it he's going around saying "screw those stupid elements he talks about, NNadir doesn't have dog poop on me! I'll take him out anytime! Yeah, that's right...". Rumor only of course but I got it from reliable 3rd hand sources...

    Dr. Isaac Asimov: "The most exciting phrase to hear in science, the one that heralds new discoveries, is not 'Eureka!' but 'That's funny ...'"

    by davidwalters on Wed Jun 08, 2011 at 08:28:32 AM PDT

    •  I would no more "debate" Harvey... (0+ / 0-)

      ...Wasserman on nuclear issues than I would "debate" Pat Robertson on issues in evolutionary theory.

      Wasserman is pure ignorance reified, as is Robertson.   The are both entirely faith based and have nothing intersting or important or ethical to say about the state of humanity.

      I have made it very clear what I think of ignorance; it is murder.

      Every day 5,000 human beings die from air pollution, and many others suffer from other things (semiconductor chemistry for instance) that Wasserman neither cares about or knows anything about.

      Debating Wasserman would rather be like the Dali Lama announcing that he is going to debate the reincarnation of Pol Pot about intrinsic value of human life.  

      As it happens, I came of age arguing about religious issues with fundamentalists.    I have aged enough thereafter to recognize the worth of such an exercise.

      I don't believe, as it happens, in hell, but if I did, I would regard it as a perfect place in which Wasserman should rot.

  •  amazing, as usual nt (0+ / 0-)

    Je regretez pas rien. How's me French?

    by Mark B on Wed Jun 08, 2011 at 02:44:01 PM PDT

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