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UH Manoa researchers discover novel chemical route to form organic molecules
Date:1/13/2012

An international team of scientists led by University of Hawai'i at Mānoa Professor Ralf I. Kaiser, Alexander M. Mebel of Florida International University, and Alexander Tielens of Leiden Observatory in the Netherlands, discovered a novel chemical route to form polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) complex organic molecules such as naphthalene carrying fused benzene rings in ultra-cold regions of interstellar space. The team announced their findings in the January 3 issue of Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Funding for the study was provided by the U.S. Department of Energy, Basic Energy Sciences.

These findings have crucial implications not only to reduce the emission of PAHs as toxic byproducts from internal combustion engines, but also rationalize the synthetic routes to a key class of organic molecules in the interstellar medium associated with the origins of life.

On Earth, PAHs are associated with incomplete combustion processes and can be formed readily at elevated temperatures in combustion engines of cars and in cigarette smoke. Once liberated into the ambient environment, PAHs can be transferred into the lungs by inhalation and are strongly implicated in the degradation of human health, particularly due to their high carcinogenic risk potential. PAHs are also serious water pollutants of marine ecosystems and bioaccumulate in the fatty tissue of living organisms. Together with leafy vegetables, where PAHs deposit easily, they have been further linked to soil contamination, food poisoning, liver lesions, and tumor growth.

Whereas on Earth, PAHs are classified as highly toxic, PAHs have been dubbed as the 'cradle of life' in the interstellar medium and are considered as key players in the astrobiological evolution. On the molecular level, functionalized PAHs carrying carbonyl and hydroxyl groups were found in organic extracts from the Murchison meteorite and form membrane-like boundary struc
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Contact: Ralf Kaiser
ralfk@hawaii.edu
808-956-5731
University of Hawaii at Manoa
Source:Eurekalert  

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