MSU News – MSU chemists solve long-standing problem, explained in international journal

BOZEMAN, MT – A Montana State University team says it has discovered the grail of organic chemistry and has just published a paper about its accomplishment in one of the field’s top journals.

The paper by professor Tom Livinghouse and graduate students Bryce Sunsdahl and Adrian Smith appears in the Dec. 22 issue of the German chemistry journalAngewandte Chemie.

First published online in October, the highly technical paper explains how the team in MSU’s Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry developed an inexpensive and environmentally friendly way to sequentially produce carbon-nitrogen and carbon-carbon bonds commonly found in antibiotics and other pharmaceuticals for humans and animals.

Organic chemists often produce a mixture of unneeded products in the process of making the one they want, Livinghouse explained. As a result, they often throw much material away and keep the one they want.

To solve that long-standing problem, Livinghouse said the MSU group developed a one-step process that largely eliminates waste products. The process is extremely efficient, and it saves time and money. Livinghouse describes it as green chemistry because the process is non-toxic and produces few byproducts. If done right, it minimizes the needs for external solvents. Scientists get “two bonds for the price of one.”

The MSU team isn’t the first to come up with the idea, but the techniques developed by other groups over the past 15 years have had very limited application, Livinghouse said.

“What we did can apply to a great many pharmaceuticals,” he said.

Livinghouse said he came up with the idea about three years ago, but he praised his graduate students for making it happen over the past year. He said their work in the lab was critical to the success of the project and the newly published paper.

“Only with the very best graduate students can you do this,” Livinghouse said. “I’m very proud of my students.

“I couldn’t have done it without them,” he added. “That’s what science is all about. That’s what the university is all about.”

The paper was Sunsdahl’s first published paper. When he learned it had been accepted for publication, Sunsdahl said, “I celebrated by doing more chemistry.”

Sunsdahl, who is listed as first author of the paper, said his main role in the breakthrough described in Angewandte Chemie was developing and streamlining the methodology for the new chemical reaction.

Sunsdahl is pursuing doctoral degree in organic chemistry and plans to graduate in the spring. With his family in St. Cloud, Minn., and only seeing them every few weeks, he said he often works late into the night in Livinghouse’s laboratory.

Smith from Escanaba, Mich., is working on his doctorate in organic chemistry and also plans to graduate in the spring.

“This is my third publication, but definitely the most prestigious one I have been a part of,” Smith said.

Livinghouse has been published once before in Angewandte Chemie, but he said the potential impact of his latest paper is much more significant than the first. In fact, he submitted his paper to the German journal because it is the most select journal in the field of organic chemistry. After learning the paper had been accepted for publication, Livinghouse said he was pleased by the recognition.

“We have been doing great chemistry in my group and throughout the department for a great many years,” he said.

MSU News – MSU chemists solve long-standing problem, explain in international journal.

MSU News – MSU researchers publish paper on the optics of Yellowstone thermal springs

BOZEMAN MT – Researchers with Montana State University’s College of Engineering have used optical technology to create a simple mathematical model to explain how temperature and chemical composition in Yellowstone’s thermal springs combine to give them their amazing colors. The model can be used to visually recreate how the springs appeared years ago, before decades of contamination from make-a-wish coins and other man-made detritus.

A paper authored by Joe Shaw, professor at Montana State University and director of the university’s Optical Technology Center, along with his doctoral student Paul Nugent and visiting German colleague Michael Vollmer, details the new model and showcases images of the springs. The paper appeared recently in the journal Applied Optics, which is published by the Optical Society (OSA).

“This is a paper that showcases MSU’s strength in optical science with the locally interesting application of better understanding Yellowstone’s hot springs,” Shaw said. “Researchers at MSU have explored Yellowstone’s thermal pools for decades, bringing us historic scientific discoveries and some of the most important lines of inquiry MSU has ever undertaken. Meanwhile, MSU’s optical science and engineering researchers have pushed the envelope of how we can measure of our world with laser and thermal imaging technology. It is exciting to see the two disciplines overlap.”

Yellowstone National Park is a geothermal wonderland, with Grand Prismatic Spring and its neighbors acting as envoys, steaming in front of visitors’ cameras and often gracing the internet with their ethereal beauty. While the basic physical phenomena that render these colorful delights have long been scientifically understood — they arise because of a complicated interplay of underwater vents and lawns of bacteria — no mathematical model existed that showed empirically how the physical and chemical variables of a pool relate to their optical factors and coalesce in the unique, stunning fashion that they do.

“What we were able to show is that you really don’t have to get terribly complex – you can explain some very beautiful things with relatively simple models,” Shaw said.

Using a relatively simple one-dimensional model for light propagation, the group was able to reproduce the brilliant colors and optical characteristics of Yellowstone National Park’s hot springs by accounting for each pool’s spectral reflection due to microbial mats, their optical absorption and scattering of water and the incident solar and diffuse skylight conditions present when measurements were taken.

“When we started the study, it was clear we were just doing it for fun,” Vollmer said. But they quickly discovered there was very little in the scientific literature on the subject. That’s when things got interesting.

In the summer of 2012, Vollmer, on sabbatical from the Brandenburg University of Applied Sciences, travelled with Shaw and Nugent to the park.  Using handheld spectrometers, digital SLR cameras for visible images and infrared thermal imaging cameras for non-contact measurement of the water temperatures, the group took measurements at a number of pools in Yellowstone, including Morning Glory Pool, Sapphire Pool and Grand Prismatic Spring. Using these data, along with previously available information about the physical dimensions of the pools, they were able to create a simple model whose renderings of the pools were strikingly similar to actual photographs.

In the case of Morning Glory Pool, they were even able to simulate what the pool once looked like between the 1880’s and 1940’s, when its temperatures were significantly higher. During this time, its waters appeared a uniform deep blue. An accumulation of coins, trash and rocks over the intervening decades has partially obscured the underwater vent, lowering the pool’s overall temperature and shifting its appearance to a terrace of orange-yellow-green. This change from blue was demonstrated to result from the change in composition of the microbial mats, as a result of the lower water temperature.

A general relationship between shallow water temperature (hence microbial mat composition) and observed colors was confirmed in this study. However, color patterns observed in deeper segments of the pool are caused more by absorption and scattering of light in the water. These characteristics – mats having greater effect on color in shallow water, and absorption and scattering winning out in the deeper areas – are consistent across all the measured pools.

“Our paper describes a very simple, one-dimensional model, that gives the first clue if you really want to do more,” Vollmer said.

“We didn’t start this project as experts on thermal pools,” Shaw said. “We started this project as experts on optical phenomena and imaging, and so we had a lot to learn.”

“There are people at my university who are world experts in the biological side of what’s going on in the pools,” Shaw said. “They’re looking for ways to monitor changes in the biology – when the biology changes, that causes color changes – so we’re actually looking at possibilities of collaborating in the future.”

Nugent, Vollmer and Shaw are continuing their research, delving further into infrared imaging at Yellowstone National Park.

Contact: Joe Shaw, (406) 994-7261,

MSU News – MSU researchers publish paper on the optics of Yellowstone thermal springs.

Victims of Environmental Hazards

Mabel Marin

It is known that as poorer the country, fewer resources to fight against the climate change there are. Those poor countries are the so called developing countries, mostly located in the South. The South is more susceptible to climatic threats, such as floods and droughts. Those reasons led the developing countries to be more affected by environmental hazards. This phenomenon is also called spatial injustice (Carmin & Agyeman, 2011, p. 24). As an example, the North East of Brazil suffers every year with long drought periods, at the same time that the South East of Brazil suffers with long periods of floods.globe

The developing countries tend to have less political power, and for this reason, are often unable to participate and productive contribute in global policy dialog. As a result, emerging nations such as Brazil, India and South Africa are committing itself to reduce greenhouse gases emission. Ironically, these countries…

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