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Airdate: May 14, 2008
Scientist: Lucy Ziurys

Science Diary: Chemistry - Machine

Science Diary: Chemistry - Machine
To find exotic space molecules, scientists must first create them in the lab. But how?

Transcript:

Science Diary: Chemistry of Space Heavy Machinery

music; ambience: machine noise

“What you're hearing in this room is a combination of two things. One is the big pump that's keeping that vacuum chamber pumped down to ultra-high vacuum, so we can create these molecules.”

That’s Lucy Ziurys, a professor of both Astronomy and Chemistry at the University of Arizona. She’s trying to create molecules in her lab but not just any molecules molecules that only exist in outer space. And to do that here on earth takes some heavy machinery, in this case a Fourier transfer microwave spectrometer. Welcome to Pulse of the Planet’s Science Diaries, a glimpse of the world of science from the inside.

“When you think of what molecules might be out in interstellar space, one doesn't realize that about fifty percent of what we have found so far are really reactive and exotic. You can't just go and buy a bottle of them or a gas cylinder; you've got to make them under unusual conditions in the laboratory. And so, this machine was designed to make them using this nozzle and accelerating them supersonically is one of the ways we can create short-lived reactive molecules that might be out in space in the laboratory for a long enough time period that we can measure what their spectrum looks like. And you say, how do you measure the spectrum? We actually shoot microwaves into that machine, at the same time the molecules absorb the microwaves and then they re-emit them, and we can actually measure at what frequencies they re-emit, and those are the frequencies we need to take to the radio telescope to see whether that particular molecule, that particular chemical compound is out in interstellar space.”

The frequencies act as a sort of fingerprint for a chemical compound, allowing the molecule to be identified.

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