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Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Power Plants on the Japanese island of Shikoku
Photo compliments of Dr. Simone Aloisio
While some might choose to take a Caribbean Cruise or ski the Alps if granted a sabbatical, you can’t say the same for Dr. Simone Aloisio, associate professor in the Chemistry department at CI. Aloisio has been hard at work this semester performing data analysis for a research project being done on the Japanese island of Shikoku aimed to develop a new cheap, effective way of measuring column carbon dioxide (CO2).

Dr. Aloisio and his colleagues Prof. Gen Inoue and Prof. Masahiro Kawasaki are hoping to determine the CO2 emissions from two power plants (no, not Fukushima) using an instrument meant to measure CO2 emissions from a specific point source. “The reason for doing this particular project,” Aloisio stated, “is to be able to measure the amount of CO2 emitted directly from a regional source, such as a power plant or a fire.” In the past this task has been a difficult feat for scientists to achieve.

The newly developed instrument used in the project measures overhead atmospheric carbon dioxide. Aloisio explained “the instrument collects infrared light from the sun in a region of the spectrum where CO2 absorbs light.” A distinctive feature of this particular machine Aloisio stated in his progress report, “is how the absorbing and non-absorbing wavelengths are obtained.” He said the “instrument uses a series of filters including an etalon filter to restrict the wavelengths of light detected.” The concentration of CO2 is determined by fitting the transmittance to a simulated spectrum. Aloisio’s contribution to the experiment involved adjusting the simulation routines to reflect only CO2 emissions and eliminate interference from water in the atmosphere. 

CO2, one of the primary greenhouse gases, is the main cause of global warming on our planet. Human actions such as the burning of fossil fuels are considerably increasing the CO2 concentration in the atmosphere. When Aloisio returns to the United States on April 25th he and his colleagues will have taken us one step closer to understanding the climate change that the planet earth is currently undergoing and what we can do to stop it.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Tempers flared and energy ran high at the Defend Public Higher Education Rally Wednesday as several students, techs and teachers met in the south quad to express their concerns regarding the budget cuts. 

News hit the street last weekend that layoff notices were doled out to all lab techs in 12-month positions in the Chemistry, Biology, Physics and Art departments at CI. In the press release the word “anticipated” is used to describe the future availability of 11-month positions, hardly a comfort for those whose jobs are at stake. Dr. Blake Gillespie, chair of the Chemistry department at CSUCI, calls the future “a bit hazy,” expressing that it was “not at all clear” to him what the rehire process would be. The rehire process isn’t the only thing that lacks clarity. Layoff notices have been described as vague, not unlike the wording in the letter to students and faculty and press release, which only devotes two sentences to addressing the issue.

I understand that the money has to come from somewhere given the financial pickle the Cal State system has found itself in, but why the ambiguity? Not only is it uncertain that every position will be filled again, but also whether or not returning techs will take a pay-cut or have to compete for the jobs they once held. Don’t the techs that just received layoff notices deserve some clarity in exchange for their services rendered?

Sunday, April 3, 2011

European Robin
Have you ever wondered why birds fly south for the winter year after year without ever asking for directions? Migratory birds use a magnetoreception toolset to find their destinations. For decades scientists have been trying to pin down the exact physical foundation for the avian magnetic sense. Evidence suggests that birds may be flying in the correct direction according to the earth’s magnetic field through use of a radical pair mechanism that utilizes quantum entanglement.
Two quantum particles that are created together are entangled. When two quantum particles are entangled the polarization will be connected no matter how far apart they are. Another way to say it would be that the particles are different parts of the same entity.
In the back of a birds eye there are several molecules that contribute to magnetoreception. The bird is able to detect signals from these molecules to determine the orientation of the magnetic field. Each molecule contains a radical-pair of electrons photo-excited to a singlet state (entangled) and a nuclear spin that couples to one of the electrons. One of the electrons moves a very small distance, just a few nanometers away where it senses a slightly different magnetic field than it’s companion electron. Chemical reactions are then produced depending on how the field changes the spin of the electron. In theory, these chemical reactions could generate a picture of varying light and dark patterns depicting the earth’s magnetic field to the bird.
In a study that was published in Physical Review Letters in February of this year,  researchers at Oxford University and Singapore University specifically examined the durations of quantum entanglement in the compass systems of the European Robin. This information is significant because of the super sensitive nature of entanglement. 
N@C60 (a Fullerene molecule)
States of entanglement are extremely sensitive and difficult to preserve 
artificially. Fullerene is a designer molecule designed by humans to hold

Schematic drawing of N@C60 
Courtesy of Simon Benjamin of Oxford University
The study found that the collapsing of the singlet quantum state doesn’t take place for 100 microseconds or more. This is significantly longer than any manmade system that’s ever been developed. Even N@C60, a manmade designer molecule, only holds entanglement for up to 80 microseconds. In artificial systems, quantum superposition and entanglement typically decay unless cryogenic temperatures are used. In the case of this Fullerene molecule, the cage of carbon atoms provides shielding from penetrating information from the outside world. If we can some day understand the conditions necessary to prevent this rapid decay it may have applications in cryptographic ranging, clock synchronization, quantum computing or even a quantum internet.
It's marvelous that nature could promote these quantum mechanisms through evolution that are so complex as to provide birds and other plants and animals with another sense altogether by utilizing a piece of natural organic machinery that human beings struggle to even grasp the concept of. With our best minds at work trying to replicate what nature has done entirely by accident via natural selection, our progress as depends on our ability to think outside the box and reprogram our brains to comprehend things not entirely in our comfort zone or our nature given genetic material.