Where Have All the Bees Gone?
Vitamin D-licious Mushrooms
Treating peanut allergy bit by bit
Tree Frogs
Jay Watch
A Fallout Feast for Crabs
The Littlest Lemurs
Fish needs see-through head
Newly named fish crawls and hops
The Snappy Lingo of Instant Messages
Chemistry and Materials
A Butterfly's Electric Glow
Picture the Smell
Bang, Sparkle, Burst, and Boom
Galaxies on the go
The Shape of the Internet
The solar system's biggest junkyard
Dinosaurs and Fossils
The bug that may have killed a dinosaur
Watery Fate for Nature's Gliders
Digging Dinos
E Learning Jamaica
E Learning in Jamaica WIN PRIZES and try our Fun Animated Games
2014 GSAT Results for Jamaican Kids
Results of GSAT are in schools this week
Bugs with Gas
Deep History
Earth Rocks On
Toxic Cleanups Get a Microbe Boost
What is groundwater
A Stormy History
Finding the Past
Of Lice and Old Clothes
Meet your mysterious relative
Childhood's Long History
Cleaning Up Fish Farms
Food and Nutrition
Chocolate Rules
The Essence of Celery
Symbols from the Stone Age
GSAT English Rules
Who vs. Whom
Adjectives and Adverbs
GSAT Exam Preparation Jamaica
Preparing for the GSAT Exam
March 21-22, 2013: Over 43,000 students will take the GSAT Exam
E Learning in Jamaica WIN PRIZES and try our Fun Animated Games
GSAT Exams Jamaica Scholarships
Access denied - Disabled boy aces GSAT
GSAT Practice Papers | GSAT Mathematics | Maths
Results of GSAT are in schools this week
GSAT Mathematics
Prime Time for Cicadas
Math Naturals
GSAT Mathematics Quiz, Teaching Math, teaching anxiety
Human Body
Heavy Sleep
Sleeping Soundly for a Longer Life
Opening a Channel for Tasting Salt
Woolly Mammoths
Raise a Lifelong Reader by Reading Aloud
How children learn
Expert report highlights the importance to parents of reading to children!
Extra Strings for New Sounds
The Particle Zoo
Project Music
Plants Travel Wind Highways
Bright Blooms That Glow
City Trees Beat Country Trees
Snapping Turtles
Space and Astronomy
Roving the Red Planet
Sun Flips Out to Flip-Flop
A Star's Belt of Dust and Rocks
Technology and Engineering
Space Umbrellas to Shield Earth
Squeezing Oil from Old Wells
A Satellite of Your Own
The Parts of Speech
Adjectives and Adverbs
What is a Noun
Problems with Prepositions
Tinkering With the Basic Bike
Ready, unplug, drive
Are Propellers Fin-ished?
The solar system's biggest junkyard
The Best Defense Is a Good Snow Fence
Watering the Air
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™