Get Regular Updates!
Search
|The ‘invisible catalyst’ that can supercharge chemical reactions

Tech

image|

Curtin University

The ‘invisible catalyst’ that can supercharge chemical reactions

The ‘invisible catalyst’ that can supercharge chemical reactions

New findings could revolutionise the way we create chemicals.

The ‘invisible catalyst’ that can supercharge chemical reactions

Australian scientists believe electricity could be used to supercharge all chemical reactions, with the discovery being dubbed the ‘invisible catalyst’.

The finding is being described as a breakthrough with the potential to revolutionise the way we make new chemicals.

It could enable the cost-effective production of complex chemicals, such as new types of medicine.

It could also reduce the environmental impact of traditional catalysts used in industrial processes, some of which produce nasty byproducts.

The researchers who made the discovery—Curtin University’s Dr Simone Ciampi and Dr Nadim Darwish and the Australian National University’s Professor Michelle Coote—were even nominated for an Australian Museum Eureka Prize earlier this year.

Though they sadly missed out on the award, the discovery is still worthy of celebration. Here’s why.

Video|Australian Museum
The ‘Invisible Catalyst’ team

CATALYST BASICS

Think back for a moment to your high school chemistry lessons.

A catalyst is something that speeds up a chemical reaction, without being consumed in the reaction.

A classic example is hydrogen peroxide, which naturally decomposes into oxygen and water.

This process is usually extremely slow.

But add a catalyst—potassium permanganate—and the reaction suddenly kicks off.

“A catalyst usually is a physical entity, something that you can touch,” Nadim says.

“It’s a powder or a metal that you add as you add salt to food.

“Usually these are expensive and toxic.”

Instead, the invisible catalyst team has found that electric fields, such as from a battery, can be used to speed up reactions instead.

“That’s something that’s not been discovered before,” Nadim says.

Image|Giphy
The ‘help’ factor

ONE CATALYST TO RULE THEM ALL

Simone says catalysts are normally specific to a particular reaction, and there might not be a known catalyst for the reaction you want to speed up.

But he says electricity has sped up all the reactions they’ve tried so far.

“We think that this could be applied to all chemical reactions but with different sensitivities,” Simone says.

How well electric fields will work for any given reaction can be predicted with a computer.

But there’s a catch—you have to orient the two molecules in the correct way.

Image|

Video Blox

Imagine trying to play Tetris with boxes 100,000 times smaller than the width of a human hair

Imagine trying to play Tetris with boxes 100,000 times smaller than the width of a human hair

LINING THEM UP

Getting molecules to react is a bit like playing Tetris—you need to orient them correctly if they’re going to fit together.

Until now, we haven’t had the technology to do that.

But Simone, Nadim and Michelle have been able to use nanotechnology to orient the molecules in the correct way and then bring them close together to react.

Working with nanoscale precision, everything they’re studying is tiny—think 100,000 times smaller than the width of a human hair.

Nadim says the challenge now is to scale the work to bigger quantities.

“We have some data to show you can go up from a few hundred to a thousand to a million billion,” he says.

“You ideally need to go towards a mole—a billion billion million.”

“It’s going to require larger electrodes—a bit of engineering but the science is solid.”

Maybe one day your house will be filled with objects made possible by the use of electricity as a catalyst.

We love science puns VIDEO

Republish

Creative Commons Logo

Republishing our content

We want our stories to be shared and seen by as many people as possible.

Therefore, unless it says otherwise, copyright on the stories on Particle belongs to Scitech and they are published under a Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.

This allows you to republish our articles online or in print for free. You just need to credit us and link to us, and you can’t edit our material or sell it separately.

Using the ‘republish’ button on our website is the easiest way to meet our guidelines.

Guidelines

You cannot edit the article.

When republishing, you have to credit our authors, ideally in the byline. You have to credit Particle with a link back to the original publication on Particle.

If you’re republishing online, you must use our pageview counter, link to us and include links from our story. Our page view counter is a small pixel-ping (invisible to the eye) that allows us to know when our content is republished. It’s a condition of our guidelines that you include our counter. If you use the ‘republish’ then you’ll capture our page counter.

If you’re republishing in print, please email us to let us so we know about it (we get very proud to see our work republished) and you must include the Particle logo next to the credits. Download logo here.

If you wish to republish all our stories, please contact us directly to discuss this opportunity.

Images

Most of the images used on Particle are copyright of the photographer who made them.

It is your responsibility to confirm that you’re licensed to republish images in our articles.

Video

All Particle videos can be accessed through YouTube under the Standard YouTube Licence.

The Standard YouTube licence

  1. This licence is ‘All Rights Reserved’, granting provisions for YouTube to display the content, and YouTube’s visitors to stream the content. This means that the content may be streamed from YouTube but specifically forbids downloading, adaptation, and redistribution, except where otherwise licensed. When uploading your content to YouTube it will automatically use the Standard YouTube licence. You can check this by clicking on Advanced Settings and looking at the dropdown box ‘License and rights ownership’.
  2. When a user is uploading a video he has license options that he can choose from. The first option is “standard YouTube License” which means that you grant the broadcasting rights to YouTube. This essentially means that your video can only be accessed from YouTube for watching purpose and cannot be reproduced or distributed in any other form without your consent.

Contact

For more information about using our content, email us: particle@scitech.org.au

Copy this HTML into your CMS
Press Ctrl+C to copy

We've got chemistry. Want something physical?