New discovery of a photobase so strong, it merits moniker of 'super'

September 17, 2018 by Layne Cameron, Michigan State University
A new discovery of a light-induced super photobase at Michigan State University is revealing some of photosynthesis' desirable traits. The interdisciplinary team of scientists was able to document the ultrafast dynamics of the super photobase that is 10 million times stronger than anything previously discovered. Credit: G.L. Kohuth

The power of the sun is so incredible that it could fulfill the world's energy needs in roughly 90 minutes. While plants have mastered photosynthesis, harnessing sunlight into chemical energy, scientists are still trying to decipher its secrets.

A new discovery of a light-induced super photobase at Michigan State University, however, is revealing some of photosynthesis' desirable traits. The interdisciplinary team of scientists was able to document the ultrafast dynamics of the super photobase that is 10 million times stronger than anything previously discovered.

"We used lasers to make the discovery, but the process doesn't require them; it can be done with sunlight," said Marcos Dantus, University Distinguished Professor in chemistry and physics who co-led this research. "Since the process is completed in a billionth of a second, the lasers simply allowed us to take snapshots in order to dissect it and measure the chemical changes."

The discovery's explanation requires a primer in basic chemistry. Many chemistry experiments observe the interaction between acids and bases. The traditional measure is a scale from zero to 14 - acids have low pH, bases have high pH and 7 is neutral.

The of a photon, particles that carry light across space, is what separates the super photobase from simply a super base. The addition of the photon dramatically increases the molecular reactivity. The increase is so great, in fact, that it's off the traditional pH scale by an unheard of 7 units, reaching 21.

While many super acids have been discovered, this is the first time that a super base at this level has been described, said Babak Borhan, MSU chemistry professor and research co-leader.

"There have been other photobases observed but not as strong. We see a 14 log unit, or about 100 million-million times greater, change in basicity when exposed to light; this is why we're calling it a super photobase," he said. "We've demonstrated that we're harnessing the energy of light and making a super-charged particle. The prevalence of photoacids has led to their exploitation in a number of avenues. The lack of photobases, though, has slowed scientists from exploring their full utility. We believe this helps overcome that challenge."

The applications of this discovery could lead to advances in solar energy capture, such as photogenerated fuels. It also can be used to develop doped materials for proton connectivity, environmental probes and even shed light on the mysteries of protein folding—the first step to many debilitating diseases, Borhan added.

If the power of photobases can be interfaced with devices, another interesting possibility is powering cars with water. If hydrogen could be split from oxygen, the energy could be used as and reduce dependence on fossil fuels.

The next phase of this research will be to control the transfer of protons from the super photobase molecule to the surrounding environment. The use of strong bases, as well as strong acids, is challenging because they require special hardware and solvents. By pinpointing the power of light, however, the super photobase is confined to the area that's lit. It also allows for the use of common solvents, which makes the experiments easier to perform.

Explore further: Scientists discover why silver clusters emit light

More information: Wei Shang et al, Ultrafast Dynamics of a "Super" Photobase, Angewandte Chemie International Edition (2018). DOI: 10.1002/anie.201806787

Related Stories

Scientists discover why silver clusters emit light

August 16, 2018

Clusters of silver atoms captured in zeolites, a porous material with small channels and voids, have remarkable light-emitting properties. They can be used for more efficient lighting applications as a substitute for LED ...

Diagnostics for super-hot plasmas in fusion reactors

January 30, 2017

In the sun and other fusion plasmas, atoms of hydrogen and its isotopes are the fuel. Plasmas are gases that are so hot that electrons are knocked free of the atom, making the atoms electrically charged ions. The un-ionized ...

Exotic quantum states made from light

August 14, 2017

Light particles (photons) occur as tiny, indivisible portions. Many thousands of these light portions can be merged to form a single super-photon if they are sufficiently concentrated and cooled. The individual particles ...

Recommended for you

Meteorite source in asteroid belt not a single debris field

February 17, 2019

A new study published online in Meteoritics and Planetary Science finds that our most common meteorites, those known as L chondrites, come from at least two different debris fields in the asteroid belt. The belt contains ...

Diagnosing 'art acne' in Georgia O'Keeffe's paintings

February 17, 2019

Even Georgia O'Keeffe noticed the pin-sized blisters bubbling on the surface of her paintings. For decades, conservationists and scholars assumed these tiny protrusions were grains of sand, kicked up from the New Mexico desert ...

Archaeologists discover Incan tomb in Peru

February 16, 2019

Peruvian archaeologists discovered an Incan tomb in the north of the country where an elite member of the pre-Columbian empire was buried, one of the investigators announced Friday.

Where is the universe hiding its missing mass?

February 15, 2019

Astronomers have spent decades looking for something that sounds like it would be hard to miss: about a third of the "normal" matter in the Universe. New results from NASA's Chandra X-ray Observatory may have helped them ...

What rising seas mean for local economies

February 15, 2019

Impacts from climate change are not always easy to see. But for many local businesses in coastal communities across the United States, the evidence is right outside their doors—or in their parking lots.


Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

Phyllis Harmonic
5 / 5 (2) Sep 17, 2018
Dang, a pH of 21. That must be fun to handle!
3 / 5 (2) Sep 17, 2018
another interesting possibility is powering cars with water
-But we already know this.

"Brilliant Light Power has developed a new commercially competitive, non-polluting, plasma-based primary source of massive power from the conversion of hydrogen atoms of water molecules to dark matter..."

"The electricity producing SunCell® uses a catalyst to cause hydrogen atoms of water molecules to transition to the lower-energy Hydrino® states by allowing their electrons to fall to smaller radii around the nucleus. This results in a release of energy that is intermediate between chemical and nuclear energies and a nonpolluting product. The energy release of the hydrogen separated from H2O, that can be acquired even from the humidity in the air, is over one hundred times that of an equivalent amount of high-octane gasoline."

-according to the brilliant dr Mills that is.
3 / 5 (6) Sep 17, 2018
-according to the brilliant dr Mills that is.

And has been promising that it is just around the corner for two decades. Looks like a con to me.

not rated yet Sep 17, 2018
'bout time!
Phyllis Harmonic
5 / 5 (2) Sep 17, 2018
Randy Mills is cut from the same cloth as Andrea Rossi (E-Cat), but with a more elaborate story.
5 / 5 (1) Sep 17, 2018
And has been promising that it is just around the corner for two decades. Looks like a con to me
According to Mills it is an enormous amount of energy, and finding a way to harness and use it has proven difficult. In recent months they have apparently had some major breakthroughs. They now have millions in funding and large engg firms working on it.

Yeah it might still be crap but it's a lot of activity and publication for crap. Interesting to follow his engg evolution-
same as rossi
During rossis last demo he lifted up one corner of his black box and flipped a switch. He didnt announce that he was going to do it, he didnt explain why he was doing it as he did it, and his explanation afterward only came in response to people crying foul. That one act in my mind blew any cred that he had left, out the window.

Hes claiming that his next demo in a few months will be a video feed from another room.

Dr Mills has been a lot more candid but who knows?
not rated yet Sep 17, 2018
Rossi continues to pump it out tho-

September 17, 2018 at 8:44 AM
Dr Andrea Rossi,
Can you tell us if the supply of the 40 MW heat will be generated by means of multiple gas jet kind of turbines?
Thank you if you can answer,

"Andrea Rossi
September 17, 2018 at 9:55 AM
Warm Regards,

"Perhaps jet turbines are required to get rid of the large amounts of heat generated by the SK E-Cats. Rossi has also stated that the 40 MW plant he is building for a customer will be built and installed in "lots", in other words will not be all installed at once."
not rated yet Sep 18, 2018
Given a thin sheet of atoms, i.e. Bound charges; each responds to the field. Try simulation w/o QM
not rated yet Sep 18, 2018
Mills just posted a vid of an experimental apparatus

-which is somewhat less impressive than expected.

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.