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Old 03-12-2012, 06:28 PM   #1
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New (sort of) practical application for PMs

There has been quite a lot of "dingoe's kidneys" talked about hydrogen, and fuel cells in general.

Truly, it would be a neat thing to have, if you could have it. But the limit has been that you need Pt as a catalyst to separate H2 into 2 H's and O2 similarly on the electrodes, and that carbon poisons this catalyst. Further, even if you make it as mono-atomic layers, there just isn't enough Pt on earth to make fuel cells for more than say, a small state in the US.

However, this is one of the very few areas where the different properties of metamaterials at the nanoscale might actually live up to the hype someday.

This isn't "the answer" but it's a heck of a step in the right direction..
http://www.physorg.com/news/2012-03-...reactions.html

And guess what metals it uses in the nanoparticles?
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Old 03-12-2012, 06:54 PM   #2
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Neat.
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Old 03-12-2012, 07:18 PM   #3
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Perhaps you can shed some light on something I read recently, DCF ?

Apparently single atoms do not 'behave' like clusters of a certain number of atoms. These numbers differing for different elements.

So it is not recognisably gold, until a threshold number of gold atoms are clustered together.

Is this the case ? and if so, any idea why ? and is this part of the reason nano particles seem to be able to cause / suppress reactions that differ from larger groups of atoms of the same particle ?
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Old 03-12-2012, 09:41 PM   #4
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You're pretty close there, but not quite. Just one gold atom is recognizably a gold atom for certain, but yes, in small enough groups, "funny things happen". There are a couple of reasons. For one thing, it's a pretty huge group of atoms it takes for us to perceive something with the normal senses, and in that large a group, a lot of quantum "funny business" is all averaged out. In small enough groups, that's not so true anymore. So in tiny groups, quantum weirdness has more effect as a fraction of the total. h-bar is tiny, but not infinitely tiny.

If you took chemistry, all that stuff about electron shells? Well it turns out that similar things happen anytime you get a few things together - be they electrons around a nucleus, hadrons inside a nucleus, or even a few atoms in a cluster. There is "shell like" behavior that goes on in small quantities of things, especially where the lines blur between pure classical and pure quantum behavior. If you think of a lump of solid, say a crystal - internally there are all these electron bonds that are satisfied atom to nearby atom - but what about the surface? That's where things get strange, and in a micro-cluster, it's nearly all surface area, so it's nearly all "funny" - dangling bonds, atoms that aren't quite happy where they are (can't always find the lowest energy stable state) and so on.

So there are two possible things going on with nanotech. One is that we can now put things together an atom at a time - kind of like life with proteins, we can work with "the nature of shapes" of not-quite-satisfied charges fitting like keys and locks - and we can do a lot with shapes alone. Then we can start looking at composites, or metamaterials, which can have more than one atom type involved - you can almost build a little factory, with this end of the thing being "attractive" to a feed material, but shoving it "down the assembly line" to a place where the stronger fields of unsatisfied charge might take it apart - or force a hole to add something - so now it doesn't "fit" anymore and gets ejected back out into the world, changed.

That's the nature of catalysis, for one thing. So far, most of the interesting catalysts have been PMs (but not all). Things like Pt and Pd have a fairly unique surface patter of charge that make this so, along with being useful because they are "noble".
But - you could call that an accident of nature that these particular pure substances are the best so far - with what science is looking into now (not very smart or keeping on topic with it) - a whole new world is appearing there for catalysis possibilities, and other things - like my post here about Maxwell's demon. But this one was interesting because it used PM's other than the big two for catalysis, and one of the reasons for using gold was its large size of atom. But that's not to say lead wouldn't work for some things, or any other large atom for that matter.

So catalysis might be making some huge leaps in the next decade or so from nanotech, and that's a big deal and will affect markets.

Another place that might see huge changes from nanotech or metamaterials is permanent magnets, as they are actually still fairly poorly understood. That of course is what's currently driving the RE markets. That could change overnight if a new arrangement of cheaper atoms gives the same or better results, and no theory says that can't happen at this point.

Right now, the stumbling block is that there's no feedforward theory of this at present, and that these custom atomic arrangements don't just fall together in a test tube - they're hard to make at all, much less in mole quantities, at present. In some cases, this is changing as polymerization and other tricks are brought to bear, however. We just can't do really complex stuff auto-assembled yet, life still rules in that area for now. But we are learning how life manages it...

Hope that gets it for an answer. To be short, yes, clusters of one atom can act kind of like a super atom with properties different from the individual ones - it's all that shell stuff happening on a slightly larger scale again - Pauli's exclusion principle, once you understand it for real, explains it all - and it takes awhile to get that one in your head. Hint - it's not magic forces, it's geometry of the "shells" which aren't round - they are things like dipoles, quadrupoles and so on...which is why two can't be in the same space identically, they won't "fit". But you can have a dipole in all of X, Y, Z axes at the same time-place, because the wavefunction has zero value at the origin, so they "fit" that way. Which explains why there are thus many electrons in the first shell (two per axis, as they can be spin up or down per). When you work this out, all the "magic numbers" just fall out of it geometrically, and with slight mods due to protons etc having some different quantum numbers possible, the same applies for stable nuclei as well - very strange how the world is assembled.

Sadly, I know jack squat about this, really, but even more sadly, I think I know more than most of the scientists studying the stuff in the link! Most of them are so specialized that most of the time they are just rediscovering what's been known a long time in some other specialty. I try to be a generalist, but it's a lotta work.

There's a lot to learn about that fuzzy boundary between "pure classical" and "pure quantum" that the math really doesn't handle well at all - we know it works well in the pure cases, but at the transition no one's really worked out how to splice the equations together very well, and we still don't have squat "feed forward" for that or much of anything else. So we try stuff, then try to use the math to explain it, not the other way around, as it would be nicer to have it.

Edit, I have a really good article with pix of the odd things about nano clusters somewhere in an old Physics today - if I find, it, I'll scan and republish it. It's pretty cool stuff.
It's not that it isn't gold till you have a bunch of it, it's that gold (or anything else) acts differently in small clusters than it does in bulk. And the differences can be real interesting. Sodium for example, is electropositive as can be in bulk -even takes water apart. But in small clusters, some cluster sizes act electronegative - like chlorine...cool stuff like that. Still sodium the entire time, strip off one atom, it's a sodium atom, or put enough together and get bulk sodium. Most of the interesting effects happen between about 4 and about 20 atoms, larger and bulk properties start to appear, like normal, and too small doesn't allow for much complexity. Mother nature can count!
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Old 03-12-2012, 10:25 PM   #5
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AWESOME thread DCFusor! Bravo!

"+++++"

I would venture to guess that other discoveries will be made based on the sizes of atoms, how many there are in the vicinity, what other atoms are around, their electron distributions, etc. Lots of permutations means lots of possibilities of finding new useful materials.

And it always seems to come back to gold..., bitchez!

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Old 03-13-2012, 12:14 PM   #6
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Thanks, DoChen. This is an area where basic research is going on, but mostly (sadly) it's kind of "let's try this and see what happens" followed by more work if something interesting happens. We're all still awaiting the next super math guy to get that feedforward stuff going for us so we can do it in a more directed manner. It's hard to get funding for "just try stuff" these days unless you can hang some immediate profitable outcome on it in a press release.

We thought that for awhile, Mandelbrot might be that guy - he got close with his studies of iterative systems (where the next input is the last output), which include quite a lot of what goes on around us - weather, for example. While he characterized some common behavior of such systems, he couldn't take it far enough to make it really predictive, and so we're all still waiting for the "Queen" of sciences to appear on this scene.

In the meanwhile, it's interesting to look at what we stumble on, and the classes of things we might stumble upon that would make a macro difference in life, and therefore, the markets. None of this happens as fast as the "technology will always save us" worshipers believe, but it happens, like demographics, and at about the same speed.

I guess I get some fun out of being the house science guy somewhere - here's nice as the other people here are way not-dumb, unlike a lot of other places I could hang out

And yes, gold and the other PMs get interesting because in this case, they sit on a border between being noble and not-noble, in this case almost at the same instant, so interesting things can happen. It's a real-life case of Schrödinger's cat being alive and not-alive at the same time. All this is almost impossible to do with less noble stuff - they react with something before you can put your meta-material together at all.
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Old 03-13-2012, 07:14 PM   #7
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Wow, thats a fantastic couple of posts DCF.

Youve filled some gaps really well for me but ........ now theres a whole bunch more stuff I know I dont know.

Fantastic that you can see the importance of being a generalist.
Most of the science heros of old were able to explore ideas that todays specialists would never consider.
All the specialists can achieve is refining and improving an existing concept.

Ive always been more interested in anomalous behaviours in the material world, the stuff the science guys tend to avoid ( perhaps because im a bit that way in my behaviour ) and love the simplicity of mandleberot, as it seems to demonstrate a root cause of growth in all living things and is one of the few meeting points of science and philosophy.

New ideas will come from generalists pondering anomalous behaviours.
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Old 03-14-2012, 12:38 AM   #8
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Generalists and experts... Here are two books which explore some of this territory. Both are excellent:

Voltaire's Bastards, John Ralston Saul (1992)

This book comes down real hard on the cult of reason and "experts" (like Robert McNamara and Henry Kissinger). Even though the book is old, it is devastating on the narrowness and lack of perspective of certain types of experts, especially "technocrats" who he really hates...

The Black Swan, Nassim Nicholas Taleb (2007 -- how timely)

Everybody and his mother talks about this book. Taleb says we need generalists too! And yet he is a highly trained professor of finance at NYU and runs (ran anyway) his own hedge fund. Our society needs perspective that well educated generalists can provide.
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Old 03-15-2012, 12:18 PM   #9
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Maybe it's confirmation bias, since I'm a generalist, but I agree - and thanks.
I do try to also be an expert on a couple of things...

Here's another almost information-free bit of press-release-science on PM's and catalysis - this time for fuel cells.

http://www.physorg.com/news/2012-03-...uel-cells.html

The actual big deal here is that there's a heck of a lot more gold in the world than platinum. The other issues with hydrogen as an energy storage/transport on any large scale remain pretty daunting.

The thing is, if the right guys happen to study the right things, it's just as likely (seems to me) we wind up with tantalum or vanadium here...or something else not currently so "mainstream". If so, that's going to be a real trading opportunity and a huge scramble.

EDIT: FWIW, but to a topic on another thread - someone should be looking at how much energy it would take to "reverse-crack" methane into longer chain hydrocarbons. You'd get some hydrogen (presumably for local use, perhaps process heat) out of it, but if the energy balance isn't too bad, it might make it cheaper enough to ship to make up the difference - and easier to adopt. In other words, just make gasoline or propane out of the stuff. Methane is CH4, gasoline is more or less CH3-CH2-(a bunch more CH2's)-CH3, the good stuff having some side chains. But it's a heck of a lot easier to ship around, and by golly, we already have a lot of ways to use it. Just a daydream from a generalist.

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Old 03-15-2012, 12:27 PM   #10
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Originally Posted by DCFusor View Post:
... someone should be looking at how much energy it would take to "reverse-crack" methane into longer chain hydrocarbons. ...
Lyle: [after the farting] How 'bout some more beans, Mr. Taggart?
Taggart: [fans his hat in the air] I'd say you've had enough!
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Old 03-15-2012, 05:58 PM   #11
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¨Reverse-crack¨ methane... Hmm, I do not have the chemistry and math down well enough to even attempt to take a shot at that one. WAY ABOVE my pay grade! But, since I don´t have a real job anyway, well, I don´t feel so bad...
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Old 03-15-2012, 07:48 PM   #12
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In normal refining, one takes big hydrocarbon molecules (which tend to be heavy and tar-like) and "cracks" them up with heat and a catalyst into smaller ones (same atoms, just arranged in smaller groups), which tend to be more like gasoline. But in chemistry, you can either break things up or put them together...
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Old 08-23-2012, 11:39 AM   #13
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WHile the source here is "press release science" and you can't comment on that forum if you're not an idiot (so it seems), I've been watching this one for awhile, and it's actually pretty interesting. Nano-porus gold uses a heck of a lot more gold than most other interesting science nano-particle uses, and this stuff could create actual bulk industrial demand going forward. It can do some things nothing else does well. Quite a few, in fact.

http://phys.org/news/2012-08-gold-go...-material.html
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