Human Rights January

A new year is upon us. As the old year is set to expire, planning and execution of what is important for the coming 12 months should be considered. For me, January is a “Human Rights” month.

Each month, I will pick an individual that I believe epitomizes the best of the human condition (dead or alive). In January of 2018, my pick is Martin Luther King Jr.

Martin Luther King Jr. is one of my heroes. His views on civil rights and non-violence are an inspiration. His struggles to achieve his goals are well documented. From facing down water cannons and klansmen to dealing with uncooperative individuals from the government, his life is one of a profile of courage and hope (to borrow the phrase from JFK).

While his Dream speech at the foot of the Lincoln memorial is one that many will remember, there are aspects of his inspiration that few heard of nor knew of. He realized that the dream he shared with so many was part of a long nightmare– (the following is taken from a Christmas sermon broadcast by the Canadian Broadcast Corporation):

… If there is to be peace on earth and good will toward men, we must finally believe in the ultimate morality of the universe, and believe that all reality hinges on moral foundations. Something must remind us of this as we once again stand in the Christmas season and think of the Easter season simultaneously, for the two somehow go together. Christ came to show us the way. Men love darkness rather than the light, and they crucified him, and there on Good Friday on the cross it was still dark, but then Easter came, and Easter is an eternal reminder of the fact that the truth-crushed earth will rise again. Easter justifies Carlyle in saying, “No lie can live forever.” And so this is our faith, as we continue to hope for peace on earth and good will toward men: let us know that in the process we have cosmic companionship.

In 1963, on a sweltering August afternoon, we stood in Washington, D.C., and talked to the nation about many things. Toward the end of that afternoon, I tried to talk to the nation about a dream that I had had, and I must confess to you today that not long after talking about that dream I started seeing it turn into a nightmare. I remember the first time I saw that dream turn into a nightmare, just a few weeks after I had talked about it. It was when four beautiful, unoffending, innocent Negro girls were murdered in a church in Birmingham, Alabama. I watched that dream turn into a nightmare as I moved through the ghettos of the nation and saw my black brothers and sisters perishing on a lonely island of poverty in the midst of a vast ocean of material prosperity, and saw the nation doing nothing to grapple with the Negroes’ problem of poverty. I saw that dream turn into a nightmare as I watched my black brothers and sisters in the midst of anger and understandable outrage, in the midst of their hurt, in the midst of their disappointment, turn to misguided riots to try to solve that problem. I saw that dream turn into a nightmare as I watched the war in Vietnam escalating, and as I saw so-called military advisors, sixteen thousand strong, turn into fighting soldiers until today over five hundred thousand American boys are fighting on Asian soil. Yes, I am personally the victim of deferred dreams, of blasted hopes, but in spite of that I close today by saying I still have a dream, because, you know, you can’t give up in life. If you lose hope, somehow you lose that vitality that keeps life moving, you lose that courage to be, that quality that helps you go on in spite of all. And so today I still have a dream. …

(Excerpt taken from

http://www.ecoflourish.com/Primers/education/Christmas_Sermon.html

The sermon was  broadcast by the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation on Christmas Eve 1967)

 

As can be inferred by my quotation (below) and passage choices, Martin Luther King Jr. never ever gave up. He understood that to persist in times of trouble, there had to be an overarching sense of purpose in the face of overwhelming odds.

For some of us, individuals like MLK Jr. hold inspiration – although we may not have the same trials— but their life of example is one to imitate. A better version of ourselves.

Lincoln Memorial

“If you can’t fly then run, if you can’t run then walk, if you can’t walk then crawl, but whatever you do you have to keep moving forward.” –MLK Jr.

 

Are we truly free –or do we submit to the paean of the many? Traveling a road less traveled is normally far harder than would appear. Can we sacrifice selfish desires?

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A Day in the Anthropocene

While the images like the Aurora borealis (seen below) are common to many of us. A lot of us recognize it as a scientific phenomena – It is one where the magnetic field of the Earth is excited by solar particles of our Sun.

The phenomenon is viewed as beautiful, and feelings of warmth and love are attributed to its viewing.

In many ways, there is a dichotomy to understanding our world. One of feeling and sentiment and one of analytical understanding based upon rationalism.

The dichotomy of the views present a problem– one can be said to think of the world in one of two ways. However, we can rectify the dichotomy. Rectifying the views requires wisdom.

This wisdom we need utilizing both rationalization and emotional/feeling — bringing together both to an understanding.

The present solutions to our problems are based upon concepts of Sustainability. Will we be wise enough to use the Paradigm of Sustainability to ensure that our progeny can thrive?

HOPE and BELIEF in a GREATER GOOD

Can wisdom sustain humanity’s future? Image by John A. Jaksich.

Many problems that require humanity’s wisdom begin with solutions based upon hope. In this present era, it is known as the (era of Man) Anthropocene. It is fraught with pain and anxiety.

This Era of Man is a wake-up call for all.

Whether it is a La Nina driven hurricane slamming into the Yucatan Peninsula or an extreme high tide inundating the Florida Keys, the effects of human-driven climate change will affect more than just local populations.  From journals to popular best-sellers, our planet’s challenges are documented.

Answers for the Anthropocene are based upon Sustainability—

Sustainability is the means of meeting the needs of the present while preserving biodiversity and the natural ecosystems for future generations.

A major issue surrounding the paradigm of sustainability is the lack of a crystal ball that the approach is meant to address. Let’s face it, when addressing the preparedness of humanity to take on disasters of their own making, our own track record is poor. Putting it succinctly: We can not solve today’s problems with yesterday’s technologies.  

I do have hope, however. I will not give in nor surrender.

Ramblings, Statements, and Opinions — Christmas Message!

Ramblings of History

The world has not quite been the same since the multiple jets  hit sites in the US on September 11, 2001 and unfortunately, the terror continues well into 2016.

The jihad  is much like a that of a desperate, cornered beast. Their war on the West can be said to be one of  nomads desperately seeking to turn back time. Let me explain.(1)

When the hordes of Genghis Khan swept from Asia into Europe, their attacks were that of a nomadic tribe seeking to displace the Romans from parts of their Empire. The Romans, for what little credit they are given, were a civilized society. (Yes, the Romans were barbaric but they laid the foundation for modern Western society.)

The hordes of Genghis Khan were a nomadic collection of warriors mounted on horseback. They originated in what is now the Mongolia-China region of the world. Nomads are feudal tribes — they do not farm nor herd cattle nor sheep. They subsist through violence and terror. Much like the jihadists, I believe a fair comparison can be drawn to the hordes of Genghis Khan.

The eventual decay and demise of the Romans had multiple factors, but  the Mongolian horde hastened the Roman demise. The demise of Rome led to a power vacuum where Rome once dominated.

When Christianity filled the power vacuum left by the Romans, it was a natural order of civilization. Christianity (given its merits and faults) helped to stabilize the regions once held by Rome.

Lessons of the Early 21st Century

The military responses of the West against terrorist cells have crippled the abilities of the jihadists — but as the decade wore through the 2000s to 2016– the mood of the public has changed. In Africa, jihadists are still strong; however, much of the world is not concerned with Africa. Presently there a few resources to exploit.

As long as we are incapable to mount a full response in areas that lack economic resources, our actions are mute. It reeks of shallowness

and of greed. In other regions of the world, Nationalism has spurred Nazi sympathies.

And the following question might be appropriate–

Power Vacuums and Political Instability?

Parts of the Mid-East and parts of Africa are still populated with terrorist cells. Much of the Mid-East is unstable, as well.

The Arab Spring coupled with the rise of Nationalistic sympathies seem to have made instabilities though much of the world.

I personally don’t believe that the West will fall. However, what is frightening is the poor humanitarian responses that Nationalistic sympathies seem to have brought. If the jihadists are to be defeated (or at least made to believe differently), they need reasons to do so. And, breast beating hegemony from parts of the US and other parts of the world will hasten further conflict.

We and much of the world are perched for armed conflict–in my humble opinion.

So, what do I believe should be done?

Seek a third path– While much of world seems perched with an unstable attitude and potentially toward war, Nationalistic sympathies need to be assuaged. The fomenting attitudes of Nationalism seemingly are based upon an attitude that says — the former status quo is not good and denying basic human rights to those who are suffering is justified.

Those who are presently fomenting hate need to be thrown out of power….before it is too late.

These patterns were seen prior to WWII– the Axis powers and used them to justify the slaughtering of Jews, gypsies, and many who were deemed unfit… (none-Aryan)

Well, as any student of history will tell you, anyone who does not understand their own mistakes will repeat them.

1. The Ascent of Man, Jacob Bronowski. BBC Publications 1973.

Jacob Bronowski (1908–1974) was a mathematician, biologist, science historian, and author. His well-known works include The Origins of Knowledge and Imagination and The Ascent of Man.

Our Oceans: A Public Dumping Ground

 

Our oceans face a crisis. There are a number of important reasons for concern. The trickle down through the food chain may affect several generations of our progeny.

Sampling the World’s Oceans for Pollution

In every ocean on our planet, we find the signatures of humanity.

On the tiny Pacific Atoll of Midway, adult Albatross birds feed plastic and other garbage to their hatchlings. The skeletal remains of albatross chicks litter the beaches of Midway Atoll revealing a menagerie of un-digested plastic.

Off the coast of Los Angeles county, there is a US-EPA Superfund site, it had served as an illegal dumping ground of DDT and PCBs in the 1960s to 1970s for the Montrose Chemical Company. While its declaration as a Superfund site occurred in the 1997, its present status is still toxic. Recent studies appearing in the journal Environmental Pollution in 2016 find evidence of some coastal fish ingesting DDT and PCBs. The scientists from the University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee, the University of California, Riverside and the Southern California Coastal Water Research of Costa Mesa California report high levels of DDT and PCBs in the sediment, as well.

A schematic from US Environmental Protection Agency that details levels of DDT contamination of sediment off the coast of Southern California. Highest levels are in red, while indigo represents the lowest reported levels of DDT. Image by US EPA.

One place that many would not fathom to believe finding the remnants of civilization is the Mariana Trench in the Pacific Ocean. In 2016, it was reported that garbage was found there, as well.

Scientists are now finding the effects of technological excesses in the Arctic ocean, as well. Studies as recent as August of 2017 reveal finding  micro plastics (MP) in sediments and waters of the Arctic Ocean.

It does not take far or very long to notice the effects of ocean pollution. It is safe to deduce the oceans and we face a potential crisis.

PCB Pollution Los Angeles County

A schematic from US Environmental Protection Agency that details levels of DDT contamination of sediment off the coast of Southern California. Highest levels are in red, while indigo represents the lowest reported levels of DDT. Image by US EPA.

Image source: https://www3.epa.gov/region9/superfund/pvshelf/index.html

 

 

What are these ‘Newer Pollutants?’

Finding micro-sized particles ( known as beads from toiletries and micro-sized plastics) in sea life presents a new twist in the  water problem. Because the so-called particles are not readily trapped during sewage treatment processes, many different kinds of sea life are ingesting them, as well. Thus, micro-sized particles are found in many forms of  sea-life: kelp, shellfish, birds, and other fish. These findings have led to a further maturing of technology leading to the new field of nano-toxicology. However, not all of the scientific establishment is on board with the findings.

A Mindset that Allowed Micro-sized Refuse in the World’s Oceans

Whether it is leachate from plastics or micro-beads utilized in toiletries– the un-wanted chemicals are found in almost every species of sea life. As the world forged ahead by utilizing nanotechnology in the hopes of greening the planet, paradigms that were utilized in past technologies still haunt the planet’s population. The mindset of ignoring the repercussions of toxic chemicals was one that was rampant prior to Ecology Movement of the 1970s. Since that time, a majority of the newer generation of scientists have changed their priorities, but complete change is yet to come.

 

 

 

It is in the Water — and Much More?

By John Antone Jaksich

Flint, Michigan has suffered without clean water for more than four years. Leaded water is the least of their worries? Image by John A. Jaksich

Water is crucial to life, it can be a vehicle that carries disease as well. A specific case is the agent known to cause a deadly form of pneumonia- legionella. The bacteria first gained notoriety in the late 1970s. In 1976, cases of an antibiotic resistant pneumonia struck in Philadelphia. Individuals attending an American Legion convention were struck ill. There were fatalities. The disease became known as legionnaire’s disease since it affected convention-goers at the American Legion convention.

While the above diseases are associated with Third World countries, they occur with greater frequency in the USA. Their occurrence is correlated with a neglect of social services and insufficient funding of infrastructure. However, there is a more hideous culprit; it is confluence of circumstances associated with an increasing temperatures, too. Copyright image by John A. Jaksich. All Rights Reserved.

While the cause of the pneumonia was mysterious, it took more than one year to pin down its mode of action — or how individuals were sickened. To this day, illnesses associated with legionella are not completely understood. [There are at least two known diseases associated with legionnaires’ bacteria: pneumonia and Pontiac fever.] However, through painstaking detective work, some common factors appeared: water and air conditioning units were involved. More mysteriously, the water was shown as plain tap water. Eventually, epidemiologists narrowed the causative factors as an aerosolization of bacteria-carrying water. Shockingly, chlorinated drinking water does not remove the bacterium in all cases. Normally, water is chlorinated to remove all traces of bacteria, but chlorination failed in this instance.

According to the U.S. EPA – “… if more prevalent bacteria and viruses are not present in the drinking water, then chlorination would have removed Legionella, as well …

So, we ruminate on potentially deadly diseases transmitted via a life-giving substance – water. The primary problems we face with water are poor infrastructure management. In fact, if we survey the potential number of diseases associated with water — the number and variety may astound us? From listeria to cholera to legionnaire’s to mosquitos infected with zika and west nile virus, it is a neglect of infrastructure coinciding with drastic climate change that proves problematic. It is no coincidence that rises in atmospheric and ocean temperatures trigger more cases of illnesses. To use an-oft quoted expression, we have a “perfect storm.”

While many individuals within the mainstream can not or don’t know how to accept that we are undergoing a drastic change, our fates appeared sealed with squabbling politicians whose only concern is money and wealth.

PARTS OF FLINT, MICHIGAN CONTINUE TO HAVE BAD WATER. IT HAS BEEN MORE THAT FOUR YEARS SINCE THE NEW WATER TREATMENT FACILITY HAS COME ON-LINE. DEATHS IN FLINT, FROM THE BAD WATER, CAME FROM LEGIONNAIRES’ DISEASE.

While Flint, Michigan continues to struggle with bad water, scientists and policy-makers continue to scratch their heads. The deaths in the poverty-stricken city are pushed to the back-pages of newspapers and not covered by the nightly news. The questions to ponder (according to this author), since Legionnaires’ is associated with higher temperatures, the likelihood of completely removing the bacterium from the water supply was not 100 percent.

Scientists now know that the legionnaires’ bacteria thrive in higher temperatures — even in chlorinated water.

Bibliography and sources

Water Purity and EPA standards: https://www.epa.gov/ground-water-and-drinking-water/national-primary-drinking-water-regulations#three Accessed October 7, 2019.

Frontline PBS: Flint’s Deadly Water. aired: September 10, 2019 https://www.pbs.org/wgbh/frontline/film/flints-deadly-water/

Aaron J. Prussin II, and others. Ten Questions Concerning the Aerosolization and Transmission of Legionella in Built Environment, Building Environment Journal 2017. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/29104349

Ronald S. Martin, and others. Isolation of Legionella pneumophila form hte blood of a patient with Legionnaires’ disease. Canadian Medical Association Journal 1984. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/6388781

Opinion- Can the Chemical Sciences Stand Alone without a Physics Foundation? —

Does chemistry owe its existence to physics or is chemistry an independent discipline to itself? Many physicists believe that all the other sciences can be derived from Physics. To some chemists, physics and chemistry are distinct from one another— but question does not have a  complete resolution. To the late physicist, Richard Feynman, all of the sciences are derived from physics. And, if one ever gets to listen to any of his lectures, he can be rather convincing! However, there are a good four decades since his lectures were recorded. And, chemistry continues to develop. 

While physics and chemistry are rightfully a quantitative and an investigative sciences, chemistry is recognized for its creative and inventive ways. And, yes chemistry does have quite a bit in common with physics. However, it is argued that object of chemistry is the creative, craftsmanship of changing and combining of elements and molecules. It is the correct combinations that eventually lead to life and many of the molecules that we see on Earth.

Just like the alchemists, modern chemistry continues searching for a proverbial philosopher’s stone. This stone could be argued as being the commonality that links all combinations of molecules, atoms, and elements that allows for reactions to occur.

The Evidence Supporting Chemistry to be a Fundamental Science?

If there is any argument to be made for why chemistry fundamentally differs from physics— it would be mathematics and the experimentation behind it. And, it is here that we find reasons for constructing a mathematical edifice for its reactivity.

Understanding and utilizing reactivity hinges on knowing what kinds of chemicals will react to form ‘what different types of molecules.’ That descriptive aspect of chemistry is known as chemical kinetics. It utilizes a classification scheme for reactivity, its basis is how mechanistic descriptions are utilized.

Mechanistic descriptions utilize the manner by which molecules and reacting molecules orient themselves to give the most likely products. These mechanistic descriptions finally bore scientific results when experimental evidence was shown in many cases to match theoretically derived hypotheses. However, it is in the creative craft of reactions and synthesis where we may attempt to find resolution to the conundrum.

Thus, the fundamental problem of chemistry is to understand chemical changes.

Where do we find a fundamental ways  to describe chemistry without physics? –It isn’t easy…

Quantum mechanics famously explains chemistry. And to the bane of some physicists, the Uncertainty Principle asserts that electrons are a slippery slope to pin down. Finding the position of an electron does not allow one to find it’s velocity. Chemists, on the other hand, describe chemical reactions in terms of electron pushing.

And therein lies the potential solution. Describing chemical reactivity in the fundamental terms of quantum mechanics is the means to develop chemistry (without fundamental physics — mechanics, ). Don’t measure the immeasurable electron, measure atom movement spectrally. 

In the early 1980s to 1990s, experimental evidence accumulated by physical chemists showed that reaction dynamics could be pinned down with femtosecond spectroscopy. The primary developer was Dr. Ahmed Zewail

The Nobel Prize in Chemistry 1999. NobelPrize.org. Nobel Media AB 2019. Thu. 9 May 2019. <https://www.nobelprize.org/prizes/chemistry/1999/summary/>

The recognition that atoms or reacting molecules can be measured with spectral results is now a foundation by which chemistry is fundamental.

Knowing chemical reactivity without classical physics to aid ihe descriptions is half the battle-

While it may take several generations of scientists to move the chemical sciences further into a foundational grounding without physics, it is moving slowly in that direction.

Prejudice Comes in Many Stripes?

Many of my posts in 2018 dealt with the civil rights and the ways people  gave themselves a sense of coping and justice. Possessing the ability to tolerate hate and injustice is one of the hallmarks of inner peace and serenity. 

So, I will write and comment on the issue in the context of Border walls to the South and the injustices faced by Hispanics and others.

So, let’s start–

 

When the Christopher Columbus landed in Hispaniola in 1492 – he brought disease, death, and suffering to two continents of the Americas. While he may have believed that Catholicism could save the Indian and liberate the land for Spain, the parochial outlook of Columbus is not over emphasized.

As related in the book 1492, the Americas were a land of plenty to the original Americans. The original Americans knew how to steward the land properly. They burned acre upon acre of foliage and tree and deposited the ash into the soil. The subsequent ash enriched the soil — the Indian planted native crops and subsisted upon vegetation and bison.

The bison, to the Indian, were not as numerous as depicted in accounts by many of the early settlers. The Indian knew to not slaughter all of the bison — but enough remained, so that in subsequent seasons, new bison replaced the hunted bison.

When the first settlers came upon the virgin forests of Kentucky and the thousands of head of bison in the Ohio river valley (and beyond), they encountered an anomaly. Thousands upon thousands of Indians had lived in the Ohio river valley and in the states of Kentucky and Tennessee. They were gone– but why and how?

Popularizations of savage Indians being slaughtered by settlers tells a reckless half-truth — the Indians disappeared. Yes, they died at the hands of settlers -but not only by the gun. It was through small pox, the plague, and viral infections that settlers brought with them from Europe.

Not much is made of the fact that European horses brought small pox and the settlers brought tuberculosis, as well. These two diseases decimated the Indian populations east of the Rockies.

The settlers — in their brand of wisdom — did not realize the Indians had been on American continents for thousands of years prior to their arrival. However, the Indians possessed wisdom and not ignorance as suggested by some.

The Truth?

While the settlers utilized their own brand of wisdom garnished from experience and the Bible, the indian understood the land and the wisdom gained by working the land. Over thousands of years, the original Americans learned that they could not cruelly take and not replenish the resources of their homes. 

Presently, civilization stands at a nexus point –a crossroads where the continuation of not replenishing the land and it resources could spell extinction for some. As some who fail to understand that it is wrong to not replenish the land, they may disappear in an ironic act of karma. However, karma, for all of its irony and bitter truths, is a law of our own Earth –or how we act through our miss-perceptions of existence. Karma is chauvinistic view of our world and the Universe.

While I have as yet not found karma to be the accurate justification for losses and gains, it is humanity’s personal law of retribution and existence. Scientifically speaking, there is no physical evidence for a law of karma –only an ignorance to one’s actions and the effects of the actions taken. Thus, when some speak of karma coming to their assistance, individuals invoke propagating ignorance. And perhaps, their own extinction is at stake, as well if they’re not careful. 

 

While it may never pan out for some – what is real and true in the physical world are the laws of science- biology, physics, chemistry, and their allied fields.

 

What of Bigotry?

Well, at the roots of bigotry are hate, ignorance, and false pride; or, in certain contemporary terms, narcissism. Narcissism is an interesting term — it is bandied about in many venues. From evil-bosses and sexist chauvinists to political leaders and ex-lovers, we hear about and see a lot of it. 

This is where “change can take place” – real and unabashed change. This present age of hated, whether personal or overt, presents reasons for some to affect change.

How?- let me list a few:

  • set an example for others 
  • gently confront or correct others in their misdeeds
  • write and expose to the wider public the persons responsible
  • act in concert in a group setting — when was the last time you noticed a group of individuals act kindly and compassionately towards hate?
  • get the right authorities to act –if they exist, to enforce laws that violate basic, human rights

Bigotry can not co-exist with truth, love, and justice — they are polar opposites.

Peace-

Modifications to Photosynthesis: A Simpler Way to Energy Efficiency and Fine Chemicals

Photosynthesis is a biochemical cycle that produces oxygen and a simple sugar, glucose. In present research, scientists are learning to make photosynthesis a process that can displace commercial chemical production and as a replacement to fossil fuels. It is in photosynthetic processes that research is done to improve the chemical apparatus used by plants and bacteria—making the processes environmentally safer than commercial syntheses or energy production.

What is the Chemistry Behind Photosynthesis?

Many of us in the U.S. learn about photosynthesis in High School science classes as one fundamental chemical process. The process is portrayed by a single equation. Plants and bacteria produce oxygen (O2), water (H2O), and a simple sugar- glucose (C6H12O6) :

                                   6CO+ 12H2O + UV-Light —> C6H12O+ 6O+ 6H2O.

However, the one equation does not tell a complete story. Photosynthesis involves two fundamental processes that include hundreds of individual reactions –light  activated reactions and reactions occurring with no light activation. The two processes with numerous equations are known as biochemical cycles — the cycles of photosynthesis can be represented by the following chart:

Photosynthesis utilizes hundreds of distinct chemical reactions. Diagram of photosynthesis in the chloroplast of a leaf. Image from Brookhaven National Lab https://www.bnl.gov/chemistry/ap/images/Home_01_HR.jpg

How To Modify Photosynthesis?

While the question becomes- what reactions are most conducive towards modification? No plant- nor bacteria-based photosynthetic reaction is modified easily.

As researchers sought ways to modify photosynthesis, they did not find suitable mimicking reactions to take the place of natural photosynthetic reactions. Attempts modifying photosynthesis result with inefficient substitutes that cannot compete with plants, themselves.

One example is to replace biological apparatus of the Calvin cycle with a synthetic catalysts. The Calvin cycle produces a simple sugar- glucose, from carbon dioxide. Thus,

CO2 + H2O  –> C6H12O6.

While the reaction, as written, is not easy to fathom, biology performs the process simply. The plant or bacterium uses molecules called enzymes to push the carbon dioxide molecule to become a glucose molecule.  Enzymes are far larger than the molecules they catalyze. In this particular case, the enzyme surrounds the carbon dioxide molecule while the hydrogens and oxygens are added in one step.

Proposed analogous synthetic reactions use a metal catalyst to add 12 hydrogen atoms and 6 oxygen atoms in separate steps to the carbon dioxide to make the simple sugar- glucose, C6H12O6. While researcher’s results showed the metal catalyst as ineffective, molecules, that can better mimic enzymes, are required.

Quoting from a publication of the American Chemical Society in 2017–researchers from Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory at the University of California, Berkeley can be quoted “… it would be unreasonably hopeful to imagine we could currently capture all the performance capabilities of biological CO2 reduction…” Chemical processes of photosynthesis adapted to an almost static soil and mostly pure water over the course of billions of years– our current attempts pale in comparison. Knowing that sunlight shining on plants and other organisms is variable as well further confounds the issue.

The following table captures the essence of the argument of the previous three paragraphs:

Photosynthetic organisms with improved light harvesting capacities have light gathering efficiencies greater than 20 percent, are suitable for further alteration. Inorganic materials improve light harvesting. Research continues in this area. Image by John A. Jaksich

Thus, researchers improve light harvesting actions of organisms. Of all aspects related to photosynthesis, organisms efficiently harvest only 3 percent light. The 3 percent number is the biggest reason to approach photosynthesis research to improve light harvesting

Modifications to Photosynthesis Understood from a ‘First Principles Approach’

Cybernetic modifications to photosynthesis is as confusing as black hole physics-- both possessing a sense of a new frontier.
Humanity has entered a new age– learning to alter its larger environment– anthropocene. The age of man (or anthropocene) gives us choices that can save us from potential extinction. Modifications to photosynthesis push the frontiers of science into areas that may prevent our eventual extinction. Image by NASA/JPL-Caltech.

When discerning ways to modify photosynthesis, scientists are left with one easy option. The improvement of light-gathering efficiency is addressed because the photosynthetic apparatus shuts out more light that it can handle. Given that plants and bacteria respond to increased light through the slow evolutionary processes that spawned their genesis, we proceed with evolution in mind. When increased light normally coincides with growth and carbon dioxide uptake, we take it one step at a time. Once light gathering efficiency is improved, scientists can take the next step: the discernment of plant photo-biochemistry and chemistry.

The present course of climate change has made research in this area a major concern. Of late, average yearly temperature changes appear to increase exponentially. When the year 2050 arrives, we may not possess the luxury of accepting fossil fuels as our source chemistry dependence–if we are still around to do so.

ADDITIONAL READING & REFERENCES

GARY F. MOORE and GARY W. BRUDVIG. Annual Reviews in Condensed Matter Physics. 2010, Energy Conversion in Photosynthesis: A Paradigm for Solar Fuel Production.

ICHIRO TERASHIMA, et. al. Plant Physiology. 2011,Leaf Functional Anatomy in Relation to Photosynthesis.

PEIDONG YANG and JEAN-MARIE TARASCON. Nature Materials, 2012, Towards Systems Materials Engineering.

CHONG LIU, et. al. Science. 2016, Water splitting–biosynthetic system with CO2 reduction efficiencies exceeding photosynthesis.

NIKOLAY KORNIENKO, et. al. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. 2016, Spectroscopic elucidation of energy transfer in hybrid inorganic–biological organisms for solar-to chemical production.

J. BLOEMEN, et. al. Acta Horticulturae. 2013, Understanding Plant Responses to Drought: How Important is Woody Tissue Photosynthesis?

C. LIU, et. al. Science. 2016, Water Splitting-Biosynthetic System with CO2 Reduction Efficiencies Exceeding Photosynthesis.

STUART A. WEST, et. al. Proceedings of the Royal Society, B. 2002, Sanctions and mutualism stability: why do rhizobia fix nitrogen?

KELSEY K. SAKIMOTO, et. al. Accounts of Chemical Research. 2017, Cyborgian Material Design for Solar Fuel Production: The Emerging Photosynthetic Biohybrid Systems.

Cold Fusion Revisited?

This is a modified version of the original Cold Fusion setup of Pons and Fleischmann. The modified setup reproduced findings of Pons and Fleischmann and addressed the temperature fluctuations originally found by Pons and Fleischmann. StevenBKrivit [CC BY-SA 3.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)%5D

While chemistry is the science that explains matter’s transformation; on occasion, chemists puzzle and misinterpret their own results. It is an understanding of transformations that allows chemists to attempt to improve our lives. While the topic of cold fusion is one that elucidates incredulity among those who heard it, the story of cold fusion is one that opened opportunities in different areas of research.

While the reaction is one that is still being studied – albeit it is a process that elucidates how heavy water produces hydrogen gas. The reaction, seemingly simple, reveals misunderstandings that researchers fall into when their personal biases interfere with their research. The physical chemists who discovered cold-fusion never saw their efforts become golden –instead the reaction now bears their name. Cold fusion goes by the name– the Pons-Fleischmann effect.

What is Nuclear Fusion?

Nuclear fusion is known as a hot, energetic process that powers the Sun and creates the chemical elements. Paraphrasing and expanding the entry from Encyclopedia Britannica–

(fusion is a) process by which nuclear reactions between light elements form heavier elements (up to iron) – The vast energy potential of nuclear fusion was first exploited in thermonuclear weapons, or hydrogen bombs, which were developed in the decade immediately following WWII

The process of hot, nuclear fusion is yet to be harnessed as a true energy source.

What is Cold Fusion?

While hot fusion takes place at millions of degrees Fahrenheit, cold fusion took place at room temperature. Moreover, according to the Encyclopedia Britannica–

In 1989 two chemists, Martin Fleishmann of the University of Utah and Stanley Pons of the University of Southampton in England, announced that they had produced fusion reactions at essentially room temperature. Their system consisted of electrolytic cells containing heavy water (deuterium oxide, D2O) and palladium rods that absorbed the deuterium from the heavy water. Efforts to give a theoretical explanation of the results failed, as did worldwide efforts to reproduce the claimed cold fusion.

What is Immediately True from the Event?

We have chemical reactivity that needed further investigation with no publicizing. It was an instance of poor professionalism.

  1. Fusion energy – the energy that powers the Sun, takes place at thousands of degrees Fahrenheit. Cold fusion took place at room temperature. While the two processes seem disparate in terms of temperature, both processes formed hydrogen gas. However, neither process has been successfully replaced fossil fuels.
  2. Another issue dealt with the scale of the experiment – the cold fusion could fit on top of a lab bench. Present attempts to produce hot fusion energy take place in specialized nuclear reactors. The fusion reactors are housed in buildings that can fit tens of dozens (if not hundreds) of “lab bench sized” cold fusion reactors.

Some have labeled cold fusion as bad science. It has also been labeled as completely irreproducible. However, the result is not evidence of no reaction–just poorly investigated science.

What Exactly Happened?

When Pons and Fleischmann passed an electric current through radioactive water, they produced an excess of hydrogen gas and a seemingly anomalous rise of temperature. Fleischmann and Pons also believed they had observed gamma ray production from their reaction vessel. Gamma rays are a by-product of hot nuclear fusion.

They elected to report the reaction results via News Conference; this turned an anomalous but interesting result into a ‘public relations disaster’ for them and their home university. They believed they found a ‘holy grail’ – result that could replace fossil fuels and other ways to produce energy.

However, researchers from around the world could not repeat their results. In fact, Fleischmann and Pons could not reproduce their own results in many instances.

An Incorrect Interpretation of Fusion leads to LENR- (Low Energy Nuclear Reactions).

It took nearly twenty years until researchers understood that Fleischmann and Pons made an interesting discovery. It was a real chemical reaction that took place. It ultimately became known as the Fleischmann-Pons effect. It produced hydrogen gas and small amount of Helium. The production of helium lent some credence to original being one of fusion:

H +H –> He (helium)

However, the reaction is not the same as occurs in sun to produce He and other elements.

Scientists discovered the Fleischmann-Pons effect to be one in which -the passage of electric current along with the mechanical agitation of the reaction vessel disrupted the deuterium-oxygen bonds in radioactive water.

However, they were not producing fusion reactions like the sun; rather, they produced low energy bond rearrangements with a small but anomalous temperature rise.

Further experimentation showed the anomalous temperature rise to be the production of helium from heavy water– also lending credence to a fusion interpretation.

The helium production results from deuterium (from heavy water) embedded in the palladium electrode (thus converting to helium). While the helium production is proven as accurate, its exact mechanism is not certain.

However, the reaction for cold fusion became:

D2O + electricity –> D2 + He + heat (in the presence of palladium metal).

While the reaction is not suitable for producing great amounts of hydrogen gas nor helium, it may lead to hydrogen fuel cell technology in the distant future.

Will LENR lead to Energy Self-Sufficiency?

This purported Holy Grail is one of illusion – not an immediate discovery that could alleviate fossil fuel dependence. Presently, cold fusion is a research topic that is pursued by various research groups. Its chemistry is not hot fusion—  but it is re-termed. It is known as the Pons-Fleischmann effect. The production of helium is still under investigation–however, it is a low energy and a low temperature fusion product, nonetheless. Thus, the possibility for energy self-sufficiency from this reaction is many years in the future.

 

 

ADDITIONAL READING & REFERENCES

MARK DAVIDSON. Journal of Physics Conferences Series. 2015, Variable Mass theories in Relativistic Quantum Mechanics as an Explanation for Anomalous Low Energy Nuclear Phenomena.

MELVIN H. MILES. Chemical and Chemical Engineering News. 2017, More on Cold Fusion.

S. SPVZK. ICCF-14 International Conference on Condensed Matter Nuclear Science. 2008, SPAWAR Systems Center-Pacific Pd:D Co-Deposition Research:Overview of Refereed LENR Publications.

MARTIN FLEISCHMANN and STANLEY PONS. Journal of Electroanalytical Chemistry. 1989, Electrochemically induced nuclear fusion of deuterium.

P. L. HAGELSTEIN. et. al. Proceedings of the 11th international conference on cold fusion. 2006, Physical Effects in Metal Deuterides, in Condensed matter Nuclear Science.

Extraordinary Claims of Martian Fossils and the Evidence ?

ALH84001

This Martian meteorite contains molecular signatures that may change how we see life. NASA [Public domain]

Scientists draw on experimental results to answer important scientific questions. When an extraordinary claim happens, the scientist answered experimental questions with seemingly, incredible answers: potential Martian fossils.

Meteorite ALH84001, discovered in Antarctica in 1984 by NASA scientists, was ejected from Mars about 15 million years ago by an asteroid or meteor strike. According to scientists, ALH84001 was orbiting in our solar system space during most of that time. Surprisingly, the meteor fell to Antarctica only 13,000 years ago. 

Seemingly, Martian microfossils were found in Meteorite ALH84001 in 1996. While the claim by NASA scientists of microfossils is not completely correct – evidence was presented by the scientists that lent credence to a potential find of past life. Eventually, the claim was fomented by public opinion and even the president Clinton White House commented on the find. 

Microfossils

Earthen microfossils are several orders of magnitude larger than the purported Martian microfossils. Images by Frank Rattray Lillie, Carl Richard Moore, and Alfred Clarence Redfield

We need to first define microfossil?

What are Microfossils?

The Merriam Webster Dictionary of the English language defines microfossil:

Noun, A small fossil that typically can be studied only microscopically and that may be either a fragment of a larger organism or an entire minute organism

While many of us have seen a fossil, we rarely ask ourselves what about microfossils?

An Extraordinary Claim?

Meteorite ALH84001, analyzed thoroughly by NASA scientists in 1996 – seemed to  contain micro-fossils  within the rock. The shapes-contained in and chemical analysis within the rock resembled past life forms, according to NASA scientists.

The evidence for potential past life was the following:

(1)   The shapes of Martian fossils resembled earthen micro-fossils – namely cyanobacteria.

(2)   The Martian fossils encapsulated trace amounts of Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons.

(3)   The so-called fossils possessed magnetic properties – much like earthen Magnetites.

(4)   All important chemical components from the fossil contained chemicals from Mars only- no cross contamination from Antarctica

Fake Fossils

Purported microfossils from Mars. While the long worm-like structure resembles ancient Earth fossils, most scientists agree it is not from Martian life. Image by NASA

According to NASA scientists, Mars was inhospitable to life in 1996. In essence, the claim of fossilized lifeforms was extraordinary. If Mars harbored life, scientists believed the planet must have, at one time, resembled the Earth. Mars, in 1996, appeared  dry and inhospitable — and without liquid water or breathable air.

While having liquid water is a major prerequisite for life, Mars’ past remained mysterious.

However, let’s look at the incident.

What are the Chemical Components Behind Martian Fossils?

Earthly fossilization processes occur as minerals from the soil seep through the membranes of the dead organism.  That process is permineralization. Martian permineralization processes are unknown.

In a 2012 publication from NASA, the scientists drew the following conclusions-

  • The purported fossils were calcium carbonate encapsulations of  Martian geology- its formation may be either biological or a strictly inorganic process.
  • Within the encapsulations are trace amounts or polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, Martian minerals containing iron, silicon, sulfur, and more carbonate.
  • The chemistry of formation is typical to both Earth and Mars- however its real origins are in doubt.
  • There is no evidence for Martian cyanobacteria.
  • Water needed to be present for the formation of the Martian ‘fossils.’ Water is present on Mars today and was in the distant past.
  • Humans or robotic missions must retrieve Martian soil and rocks — regiolith.

What Can We Say About Mars?

One can look at photographs of Mars from current NASA missions – one gets the sense of a desolate planet that once had water flowing in certain areas. The Martian geology also shows signs of water levels that receded over long periods of time and a lot of sand in other areas, as well. However, we see no signs of past life- no bones or macro-fossils in any area.

In a 2018 publication by NASA scientists, we note that if there was ever life on the planet, we need to dig and extract Martian rocks from below. NASA scientists cite the extreme ultraviolet radiation from the sun and cosmic rays from universe that penetrate the Martian soil (up to the first 9 feet, at least).

That is an answer to why we don’t see Martian life – life that we do not recognize or understand. Life based upon DNA.

Mars soil

The Martian surface is red because of an oxidation process. The iron, in the Martian soil, oxidizes to rust or Iron Oxide (Fe2O3). In fact, iron is not the major component of Mars- it silicon. Image from the NASA Pathfinder mission 1997.

Ordinary Science To Prove or Disprove Extraordinary Claims?

The statement, “extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence” was stated by Carl Sagan in his landmark series, Cosmos- A Personal Voyage. The statement needs to be restated – presently, scientists cannot prove or disprove whether Mars has life. A flat statement of life on a distant planet is an unproven claim -thus ordinary experimentation that can take up to several decades to prove or disprove the claim.

The passage of time renders an experiment extraordinary or unsolved. However, recent experimentation on similar meteorites point at the life’s signatures in chondrite meteors. Chondrite meteors bear primarily carbon-bearing molecules– ones similar to ALH84001.

ADDITIONAL READING & REFERENCES: 

J. WILLIAM SCHOPF, et. al. Astrobiology. 2005. Raman Imagery: A New Approach to Assess the Geochemical Maturity and Biogenicity of Permineralized Precambrian Fossils.

FIONA L. PLOWS, et. al. Geophysica et Cosmochimica Acta. 2003. Evidence That Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons in Two Carbonaceous Chondrites Predate Parent-Body Formation.

MONICA M. GRADY,  et. al. Astronomy and Geophysics. 1997, Microfossils from Mars: A Question of Faith.

MIKHAIL Y. ZOLOTOV and MIKHAIL V. MIRONENKO. Journal of Geophysical Research. 2007, Timing of Acid Weathering on Mars: A Kinetic-Thermodynamic Assessment.

THOMAS STEPHAN, et. al. Meteoritics and Planetary Science. 2003, TOF-SIMS Analysis of Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons in Allan Hills 84001.

K.L. THOMAS-KEPRTA, et .al. Geochimica et Cosmochimica Acta. 2009, Origins of Magnetite Nanocrystals in Martian Meteorite ALH84001.

JACEK WIERZCHOS and CARMEN ASCASO. International Journal of Astrobiology. 2002, Microbial Fossil Record of Rocks from the Ross Desert, Antarctica: Implications in the Search for Past Life on Mars.

JOHN W. MOREAU and THOMAS G. SHARP. Astrobiology2004, A Transmission Electron Microscopy Study of Silica and Kerogen Biosignatures in 1.9 Ga Gunflint Microfossils.

A. STEELE, et. al. Science. 2012, A Reduced Organic Carbon Component in Martian Basalts. 

CHRISTOPHER R. WEBSTER, et. al. Science. 2018, Background Levels of Methane in Mars’ Atmosphere Show Strong Seasonal Variations.

PAUL VOOSEN. Science. 2018, Nasa Curiosity Hits Organic Paydirt on Mars.

 

 

 

At the Santa Fe Institute

The brain is perhaps one of the last frontiers. It is also the ultimate black box–

Baldscientist

One of the main desires that a scientist has (yes, we have wants and desires just like everyone else!) is to be recognized by other scientists. I got a taste of such recognition just a couple of weeks ago. In early December (Note: This happened in December 2017), I participated in an invitation-only event at the Santa Fe Institute in New Mexico (SFI from now on).

What is the SFI? I’m glad you asked. It is the “The world headquarters for complexity science”, nothing more, nothing less. For a primer on what exactly complexity science is, please go here. Briefly, complexity science encompasses pretty much everything, from the behavior of molecules, organisms, populations (remember my flock of birds post?), epidemics, economies, solar systems, and galaxies… and this is just a small sample of what is it about!

The institute has been described in many ways…

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