A Chemist Comes Very Close to a Midas Touch
By HILLARY ROSNER Published: October 15, 2012
Bibliography: Rosner, Hillary. “A Chemist Comes Very Close to a Midas Touch” The New York Times: Science. October 15, 2012. Date Accessed: October 20, 2012 In a lab in Princeton University’s ultrasleek chemistry building, researchers toil in a modernday hunt for an elusive power: alchemy.
Throughout the centuries, alchemists tried in vain to transform common metals like iron and lead into precious ones like gold or platinum. Today, Paul Chirik, a professor of chemistry at Princeton, has managed a new twist on the timeworn pursuit. Dr. Chirik, 39, has learned how to make iron function like platinum, in chemical reactions that are crucial to manufacturing scores of basic materials. While he can’t, sadly, transmute a lump of iron ore into a pile of valuable jewelry, his version of alchemy is far more practical, and the implications are wideranging.
The process could herald a new era of flexible manufacturing technologies, while enabling companies to steer clear of scarce elements as prices rise or obtaining them becomes environmentally or geopolitically risky.
“No chemist would think lithium was in short supply,” Dr. Chirik said, “but what happens if you put a lithium battery in every car? This is why chemistry needs to be ahead of the curve. We need to have adaptable solutions.”
Despite the cost and relative scarcity of precious metals — iridium, platinum, rhodium — we rely on them to manufacture products from denim to beer, pharmaceuticals to fuel cells. The elements are used as catalysts, substances that kick off or enable chemical reactions.
Dr. Chirik’s work involves dissolved catalysts, which are mixed into the end product. The molecules of the catalyst dissipate during the reaction. For instance, a solution containing platinum is used to make silicone emulsifiers, compounds that in turn feed products like makeup, ...
Bibliography: Rosner, Hillary. “A Chemist Comes Very Close to a Midas Touch” The New York
Times: Science. October 15, 2012. Date Accessed: October 20, 2012
this with something cheaper?”
A Chemist Comes Very Close to a Midas TouchPublished: October 15, 2012
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