Byte-Sized Science – 14 February 2013

Sea urchinsEchinoderm carbon capture

An unlikely new strategy for carbon capture is being investigated based on a method used by sea urchins. In an article published in Catalysis, Science and Technology, researchers are looking at ways to harness the sea urchin’s natural carbon dioxide (CO2) absorbing ability; this can be used to tackle the problem of rising CO2 levels. Sea urchins use the metal nickel to turn CO2 into shell, and it is hoped that the technique can be harnessed to turn emissions from power plants into harmless calcium carbonate. By bubbling CO2 through water containing nickel nanoparticles, high levels of CO2 can be captured.


Photosynthesis for power!

Researchers at Panasonic have turned to plants in their efforts to harness the energy of the Sun. Their super-efficient artificial photosynthetic systems mimic the processes employed by plants to achieve an unrivalled 0.2% energy conversion (far higher than any previous man-made technologies). Sunlight falls on a hydrated photo-electrode, producing oxygen molecules and hydrogen ions and exciting electrons. These electrons are transmitted to a catalyst electrode where they react with CO2 and hydrogen ions to produce oxygen and, most importantly, organic substances. Formic acid is the most frequently derived organic substance, but Panasonic hope to be able to generate more useful products such as ethanol.


Dino doom day discovered

An international team of scientists headed up by Glasgow University has tried to pinpoint the date when the dinosaurs went extinct. The team have concluded that dinosaurs died out 66,038,000 years ago – give or take 11,000 years. This was achieved by using a method called argon-argon dating, where the radioactive decay of potassium is investigated to work out how old an object is. Many fossils and rocks have been sampled, along with an analysis of craters. It is thought that the 180km wide crater called Chicxulub caused by a 10km wide meteor in the Caribbean was the final nail in the coffin for the once-great dinosaurs, but a number of factors contributed to their demise.