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Sub Image2:Macro to Micro Structures
         
 
Workshops
1) Atoms and Molecules2) Macro to Micro Structures 3) Energetics and Dynamics 4) Theory and Practice in Chemical Systems 5) Chemical Design 6) The Chemistry of Life
7) Chemistry and the Environment8) Chemistry at the Interface
 

Unit 6.1 MiniDoc: The Molecules of Life
The molecules of life are identified in interstellar clouds from their infrared spectra. Modern chemical technology makes it possible to simulate the production of these molecules in the laboratory.
Video program cues: 00:30 — 5:15

The building blocks of life

"In a conversation I had with a friend working at Chevron Research in New Jersey, I showed him some of the spectra [from the Orion Nebula] and he said: Boy, that’s funny, you ought to look in this old paper by Rosen and Nobocopf on soot-studies. So, I found the paper, and sure enough, the spectrum of auto-exhaust soot of Los Angeles matched the best spectrum from the Orion Nebula. That’s what started us realizing that soot is made out of Carbon, high temperature carbon and aromatic molecules, which are similar to those in interstellar nebulae. From there came this wonderful theory, that the conditions of outer space are just right for turning simple elements into molecules which are the building blocks of life."

Dr. Lou Allamandola
NASA Ames Research Center


Link

Simulating interstellar molecules

"We can’t build a black hole or a supernova in the lab. But we can do a very nice job making a little cell, the size of a shoebox, in which we can get very low temperatures and very high vacuum, and expose it to radiation similar to the radiation in the spectrum of starlight, and we can follow the chemistry within this shoebox."

Dr. Lou Allamandola
NASA Ames Research Center

Link

  • NASA’s astrobiology site, rich in information for teachers and students. Clicking on "education" left navigation bar provides links to many other resources for teachers.

Reading
Rawls, R. (1999)' At Ames Research Center, NASA Chemists Search for Clues to Life, 'Chemical & Engineering News, Vol. 77, No. 51, pp: 29-32.

Building the molecules of life

"If you’re going to build life, odds are it’s going to be made from carbon, nitrogen, and oxygen. We found in our lab that we can make very complicated things, relative to our starting materials; we are just beginning to understand this kind of chemistry."

Dr. Lou Allamandola
NASA Ames Research Center


Link

  • This site has organized research and articles about the origins of life into a chronology with links to the original sources.

Reading
Rawji, G.H. (1997)' Bioinorganic Chemistry: Inorganic Elements in the Chemistry of Life. An Introduction and Guide by Wolfgang Kaim and Brigitte Schwerderski, 'Journal of Chemical Education, Vol. 74, pp: 382-383

Self assembly in water

"When we add water to this material and look at it under the microscope, it starts to self-organize. What this means is that little droplets of it will form membranes, which are little hollow spheres that can separate the chemistry of the inside from the outside. In addition, if you turn off the lights and expose it to UV light, they glow. They harness energy from the outside environment, do something with it, and get rid of the excess energy."

Dr. Lou Allamandola
NASA Ames Research Center

Link

  • A NASA news release on the laboratory creation of biological molecules similar to those found in deep space.

Proceed to Unit 6.2 arrow
 
 

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