Agriculture
Watering the Air
Seeds of the Future
Middle school science adventures
Amphibians
Salamanders
Newts
Salamanders and Newts
Animals
A Grim Future for Some Killer Whales
Firefly Delight
Ants on Stilts
Behavior
The Colorful World of Synesthesia
Primate Memory Showdown
Math is a real brain bender
Birds
Vultures
Macaws
Kiwis
Chemistry and Materials
Graphene's superstrength
Batteries built by Viruses
Bandages that could bite back
Computers
Music of the Future
Two monkeys see a more colorful world
New twists for phantom limbs
Dinosaurs and Fossils
Fossil Fly from Antarctica
Tiny Pterodactyl
Meet your mysterious relative
E Learning Jamaica
Results of GSAT are in schools this week
2014 GSAT Results for Jamaican Kids
E Learning in Jamaica WIN PRIZES and try our Fun Animated Games
Earth
Wave of Destruction
Coral Gardens
Shrinking Glaciers
Environment
Missing Tigers in India
City Trees Beat Country Trees
Pollution Detective
Finding the Past
Settling the Americas
Preserving Ancient Warrior Paint
Stone Age Sole Survivors
Fish
Cleaning Up Fish Farms
Electric Ray
Saltwater Fish
Food and Nutrition
Chocolate Rules
Packing Fat
Sponges' secret weapon
GSAT English Rules
Who vs. That vs. Which
Who vs. Whom
Finding Subjects and Verbs
GSAT Exam Preparation Jamaica
GSAT Scholarship
GSAT stars reap scholarship glory
The Annual GSAT Scholarships
GSAT Exams Jamaica Scholarships
GSAT Exam Preparation
GSAT Scholarship
GSAT Practice Papers | GSAT Mathematics | Maths
GSAT Mathematics
It's a Math World for Animals
42,000 students will sit for the GSAT Exam in two weeks
10 Common Mistakes When Preparing for the GSAT Math Test
Human Body
A Better Flu Shot
Remembering Facts and Feelings
Sleeping Soundly for a Longer Life
Invertebrates
Grasshoppers
Shrimps
Praying Mantis
Mammals
Dogs
Dolphins
Lynxes
Parents
Children and Media
The Surprising Meaning and Benefits of Nursery Rhymes
What Not to Say to Emerging Readers
Physics
Gaining a Swift Lift
The Pressure of Scuba Diving
One ring around them all
Plants
Fungus Hunt
Springing forward
Farms sprout in cities
Reptiles
Anacondas
Rattlesnakes
Crocodiles
Space and Astronomy
Gravity Tractor as Asteroid Mover
A Whole Lot of Nothing
A Moon's Icy Spray
Technology and Engineering
Musclebots Take Some Steps
Beyond Bar Codes
Dancing with Robots
The Parts of Speech
What is a Verb?
What is a Preposition?
Pronouns
Transportation
Seen on the Science Fair Scene
Revving Up Green Machines
Where rivers run uphill
Weather
Polar Ice Feels the Heat
Antarctica warms, which threatens penguins
Catching Some Rays
Add your Article

Catching Some Rays

Harnessing the power of the sun is nothing new. People have had solar-powered calculators and buildings with solar panels for decades. But plants are the real experts: They've been using sunlight as an energy source for billions of years. Cells in the green leaves of plants work like tiny factories to convert sunlight, carbon dioxide, and water into sugars and starches—stored energy that the plants can use. This conversion process is called photosynthesis. Unfortunately, unless you're a plant, it's difficult and expensive to convert sunlight into storable energy. That's why scientists are taking a closer look at exactly how plants do it. In a world with increasing energy needs, researchers are always looking for new ways to power everything from cars to computers without putting more stress on the environment. That's another reason why scientists are so interested in solar power—it doesn't pollute the air, water, or land. And since the sun lights and warms the entire planet, the ability to harness its energy could provide a clean energy source for everyone. Focusing on fuel The main sources of energy that people use today are called fossil fuels, such as natural gas, oil, and coal. Unfortunately, the supply of fossil fuel is limited. Once we use all the coal and oil in the Earth, they're gone for good. The sun, on the other hand, is a renewable energy source. No matter how we tap it for energy, the sun will be around—at least for the next few billion years. There's another problem with burning fossil fuels—pollution. The ideal energy sources of the future will be "clean": they won't produce carbon dioxide and other gases that pollute the environment as fossil fuels do. Hydrogen is one alternative to fossil fuels that interests many researchers today. Hydrogen burns clean—it produces only water, not carbon dioxide. Researchers are trying to come up with ways to make large quantities of hydrogen cheaply and cleanly, and one way involves using plants or plant-like organisms, such as algae. Putting plants to work Some scientists are trying to get plants, or biological cells that act like plants, to work as miniature photosynthetic power stations. For example, Maria Ghirardi of the National Renewable Energy Laboratory in Golden, Colo., is working with green algae. She's trying to trick them into producing hydrogen instead of sugars when they perform photosynthesis. Once the researchers can get the algae working efficiently, the hydrogen that they produce could be used to power fuel cells in cars or to generate electricity. During photosynthesis, plants normally make sugars or starches. "But under certain conditions, a lot of algae are able to use the sunlight energy not to store starch, but to make hydrogen." Ghirardi says. For example, algae will produce hydrogen in an airfree environment. It's the oxygen in the air that prevents algae from making hydrogen most of the time. Working in an airfree environment, however, is difficult. It's not a practical way to produce cheap energy. But Ghirardi and her colleagues have discovered that by removing a chemical called sulfate from the environment that the algae grow in, they will make hydrogen instead of sugars, even when air is present. Unfortunately, removing the sulfate also makes the algae's cells work very slowly, and not much hydrogen is produced. Still, the researchers see this as a first step in their goal to produce hydrogen efficiently from algae. With more work, they may be able to speed the cells' activity and produce larger quantities of hydrogen. The researchers hope that algae will one day be an easy-to-use fuel source. The organisms are cheap to get and to feed, Ghirardi says, and they can grow almost anywhere: "You can grow them in a reactor, in a pond. You can grow them in the ocean. There's a lot of flexibility in how you can use these organisms." Making sun catchers from scratch Other scientists interested in alternate fuel sources are also focusing on plants. But these researchers want to re-create what plants do without actually using them. Plants have specific molecules that catch the energy of sunlight during photosynthesis. Some biochemists have used special techniques to take a snapshot of these molecules inside a cell. "We finally know what the little factory looks like," says Daniel Nocera, a professor of chemistry at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). Chemists in Nocera's lab have an ambitious plan to capture the sun's energy. Instead of tweaking the sun-catching molecules found naturally in plants and algae, these researchers want to build artificial sun-catching molecules from scratch. "We're all busily working away to try to figure out how to make [photosynthesis] happen outside of the leaf," Nocera says. Their goal—even though it is still many years away—is to have the artificial molecules produce hydrogen for everyday use. Finding solutions to our energy problems is one of the great scientific challenges of our time, Nocera says. But it's the challenge of the unanswered questions that keeps him excited about his work. "It's like we need to paint a picture," he says. "At some points, we don't even have the paints yet."

Catching Some Rays
Catching Some Rays








Designed and Powered by HBJamaica.com™