by Ian Stuart
A quantum universe in a drop of water.
by BRENDAN COLE
27 MAR 2016
t’s easy to feel like the quantum world is incredibly distant from your everyday experience, so here’s something you can do to bring it closer to home. Go grab a coin and put it under slowly dripping water. If you have a pipette, that’s the way to go. Otherwise, a dripping faucet will work.
Try enough times, and eventually you’ll be able to get the water to pile up on your coin in a big, bulbous blob. According to a new study, part of the reason the drop holds together like this is because water molecules act like little, quantum-tunnelling gears. Okay great, you can sit down now.
Water molecules are made of a big oxygen atom and two smaller hydrogen atoms, with electrons buzzing around the whole group. On average, the electrons spend more time buzzing around the oxygen and less time buzzing around the hydrogen, so the oxygen tends to be negatively charged, while the hydrogens tend to be positively charged.
If you put two water molecules next to each other, the oxygen of molecule 1 tends to attract the hydrogens in molecule 2, and the molecules will end up with the oxygen and one hydrogen really close together. If you put a whole bunch of water molecules together, they’ll arrange themselves so one molecule’s oxygen is always next to another’s hydrogen.
And then, because molecules are always jiggling around, they’ll occasionally switch from lining up with one set of neighbours to lining up with another set - the common metaphor being that water molecules are dancers who like to switch partners. The whole process of attraction and partner-switching is known as hydrogen bonding, and it’s the underlying reason for surface tension - the tendency of water molecules to clump together instead of spread apart. That’s why water drops can get so big.
But there are a couple of holes in this explanation. If all of the water molecules are in groups, how does one find another partner without disrupting the whole dance? And what happens if they’re not jiggling enough to keep switching? Does the drop just collapse?
These were the questions asked and answered by physicists at the University of Cambridge in the UK, by looking at supercooled arrangements of just six molecules.
First, they checked what happens when one of the molecules switches partners, and found that you don’t just get one molecule at a time doing the switch. The molecules always work in pairs, like interlocking gears. When one turns, it frees up a hydrogen bond that can be taken by the other and there’s never an awkward partnerless period.
But that’s not all. The molecules in these experiments weren’t jiggling enough to do the switching on their own, so the team turned to simulations to see how the gears were working.
Quantum particles (okay, all things in the Universe, but let’s not go there) don’t have a well-defined position. Instead, their positions are kind of spread out across space: it’s most likely that they’ll be where you expect them to be, but they could also end up somewhere else, even if they don’t have enough energy to get over there. It’s like if you threw a ball at a wall and the ball, instead of hitting it and bouncing back at you, just went through without breaking the wall. Your ball would seem to have accessed some sort of tunnel between your and the other side of the wall when no such tunnel exists.
This is how water is able to switch partners, according to the new simulations, published in Science this week. The molecules aren’t jiggling enough to do it on their own, so they have to rely on quantum tunneling in order to set this molecular clockwork in motion. Instead of actually searching for a new partner, they just appear next to the new partner and switch immediately. The two molecules that work together in the gears coordinate their tunneling so that none is ever without a partner.
Not bad for a little bulb of water.
By Ian Blair Hamilton, Alkaway Australia
What single biological function has been essential to every living organism’s growth, health and advancement – and is more important than any other?It’s called cell signalling; the ability for one cell in the body to ‘talk’ to another.
Now here’s another question for you. What biological process does one in every three pharmaceutical drugs attempt to assist?
Now there’s a link between today and our lifeforms all the way back to ‘slime’.
University of British Columbia researchers have identified a common ancestral gene. This gene’s function – cell signalling – enabled the evolution of advanced life over a billion years ago.
Found in all complex organisms, including plants and animals, it ‘encodes’ for a large group of enzymes known as protein kinases that enable cells to rapidly transfer information from one cell to another.
“If the duplications and subsequent mutations of this gene during evolution didn’t happen, then life would be completely different today,” said Steven Pelech, a professor in Division of Neurology in the UBC Faculty of Medicine. “The most advanced life on our planet would probably still be bacterial slime.”
Plants, animals, mushrooms and more all exist because they are made up of eukaryotic cells that are larger and far more complex than bacteria. Within these eukaryotic cells are hundreds of organelles that perform billions of diverse functions to keep them living, just as different organs do for the human body.
The new research, published this week in the Journal of Biological Chemistry, identified the gene that gave rise to protein kinases. On a cellular scale, these highly interactive signaling proteins play a role similar to the neurons in the brain by transferring information throughout the cell by a process known as protein phosphorylation.
This ability to transmit signals from one part of the cell to another not only enabled cells to become more complex internally, but also allowed cells to come together to form systems, paving the way for the evolution of intelligent life.
Research into these enzymes is obviously very important to medicine. There are more than 400 human diseases like cancer and diabetes linked to problems with cell signaling.
Disease occurs when a cell gets misinformed or confused.
Today about one-third of all pharmaceutical drug development is targeted at protein kinases. For more than 30 years, researchers have known that most protein kinases came from a common ancestor because their genes are so similar.
“From sequencing the genomes of humans, we knew that about 500 genes for different protein kinases all had similar blueprints,” said Pelech. “Our new research revealed that the gene probably originated from bacteria for facilitating the synthesis of proteins and then mutated to acquire completely new functions.”
Cell signalling has another ally which is most unlike any pharmaceutical drug. Molecular hydrogen is the subject of 700 scientific studies, over a 150+ range of disease conditions, and as well as been identified as a potential selective antioxidant, anti-inflammatory and anti-allergenic, it has also been studies for its ability to assist cell signalling.
Why should we care? We have our cupboard full of pills and potions. Why should we try molecular hydrogen?
The secret lies in its nature. H2 – molecular hydrogen is the smallest molecule in the universe, made up of two of the smallest atoms in the universe. This gives it unique properties that place it in a class of its own. Firstly, its size means the once in the body it has the ability to pass through nay part of the body, including bone, muscle, even into the mitochondria within a single cell. Secondly, it is a simple molecule. What it does – it’s shouldn’t do. Pharma giants are shaking their heads in disbelief at the results users are claiming – results normally reserved for expensive and complex formulated drugs. In truth, at this stage of research, no-one knows why it has so many therapeutic effects, but the results are certainly obvious in the studies.
Japanese scientists have introduced the latest aeration device developed by them at a shrimp farm in Thailand.
The feature of the new developed aeration device is to feed oxygen bubbles in the form of foams. The device generates fine bubbles, which is called micro-nano bubbles.
The small buoyancy of the micro-nano bubbles drift in the water for a long time which effects easily to dissolve oxygen into the water.
"The oxygen concentration rate of the fish farms and shrimp farms falls down in the evening. When the phytoplankton consumes more and more oxygen in the night, then fish or shrimp becomes suffocated. If we can help somehow with this issue, the survival rate and growth rate will increase. We have developed this aeration device as a very innovative device for the aquaculture industry which can improve the production efficiency," said Hiroaki Tsutsumi, Phd scholar of Prefectural University of Kumamoto.
Shrimp farming requires larger facility area compared to fish farming. While developing aeration device, it was required to treat large volume of water at low power consumption.
Inquiry about this device is coming not only from Thailand, but also Vietnam, Indonesia and Malaysia. Professor Tsutsumi wishes to introduce the technology in Southeast Asia.
"Asia, especially in the tropical regions have large food production base. Once we can improve the production efficiency by using the Japanese technology, it can increase the production and also helps people in Asia. It will be beneficial to both farmers and consumers. Vegetables, especially fruits contain a lot of moisture. Since 95 percent or more are the moisture contents, it needs to absorb more and more water when it comes to increase the production volume. But overdo of the water can damage the crops. But, the crop will grow active when we use high oxygen concentration water, because oxygen is absorbed together with water. I think this method is especially good for hydroponics," said Hiroaki Tsutsumi, Phd scholar of Prefectural University of Kumamoto.
The micro-nano bubble generating device also can make a healthy hydrogen water by mixing hydrogen gas to the apparatus.
"Unifood Corporation has been making frozen vegetables for seventeen years since we started this business. We don't have a factory in Japan. We import vegetables from abroad," said Saburo Kuroda, president Unifoods Corporation.
The company doesn't grow vegetables in Japan. Instead, they ask for partners in Vietnam to grow different kinds of vegetables. The vegetables are cooked there and send to Japan.
"Japanese vegetables are tasty. But they are expensive and seasonal. Our clients such as restaurant want reasonable vegetables all year. That's why frozen vegetables are needed. And if we make frozen vegetables we have to make a profit. So we started making them abroad. Besides Vietnam is very good because the climate is suitable to make tasty vegetables all year," added Kuroda.
Their clients are not only restaurants but also care facilities. The needs from them are increasing these days in Japan.
"I'm working for feeding service in an elderly facility. We usually use frozen vegetables. Those are not so tasty. But I felt these vegetables here are different and tasty. Usually, frozen vegetables are watery. But these are almost same as fresh vegetables," said a visitor.
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