Helium is a very strange beastie. With most elements, if you cool it down enough, it will turn into a solid. The molecules will slow down, and then lock into place. But helium does very strange things when you cool it down enough, including refusing to solidify as you approach absolute zero.
Of course, this is all the fault of quantum mechanics, which has the somewhat annoying property of being totally counterintuitive and also matching all experiments to see whether it’s true or not. At the atomic level, things are just weird.
Some of the weird things that helium does when you get it cold enough, cold enough to turn it into a superfluid, are: climb up walls, fit through microscopic cracks that it can’t fit through as a regular liquid, and make a superfluid fountain.
If you’ve looked at the last row of the periodic table of elements, you’ve probably wondered about those strange names like Ununoctium. These are placeholders for elements that haven’t been given official names. Well, soon these will be going away. The placeholders, that is. Researchers have synthesized them in labs, and the IUPAC has recognized them. Soon they will have official names, and the Unun names will go away.
Now it’s on to the 8th row on the table!
Metabolism. In a cellular context, it means the chemical reactions that happen in cells that help keep it alive. These reactions are fairly complex, and for a long time we thought that they could only happen inside cells, which kind of leads to a chicken or the egg kind of paradox. Now, scientists have found that it is relatively simple to have metabolic reactions happen outside of cells.
RNA is used to make proteins. And you need these proteins to do things with RNA. But these experiments show that you don’t need RNA to get the metabolic reactions happening. They could have happened in the Earth’s early oceans.
By starting with what we think the Earth’s early oceans would have, along with the starting chemicals for metabolic reactions, then heating it to 50° to 70° C for 5 hours, they were able to produce 29 different metabolic reactions. These included glycolysis and the pentose phosphate pathway, which are needed for production of ATP.
This helps scientists understand abiogenesis, how life first started. It takes out the requirement for a cell to form with all of the necessary chemistry along with it out of whole cloth. The chemistry is capable of working before the first cell formed. The part we don’t understand yet is where the starting chemicals came from. We don’t know how they could have formed yet. But we’re getting closer.
In 2010 scientists in Russia synthesized some atoms of element 117 (with temporary name ununseptium). Now, other scientists using a different method have created more of them, helping to confirm the original finding. Element 117 decays very quickly via alpha decay. One of the atoms created by the decay, Lr-266 (atomic number 103), has a half life of 11 hours. This is very long for superheavy elements, and could be on the edge of the hypothetical “island of stability” for superheavy elements. If the island exists, the next atomic numbers should be 108, 110, or 114, with 184 neutrons. Some of these hypothetical atoms may actually have a nucleus with a hole in the middle, kind of like a bubble.
Scientists have recently managed to create a new state of matter where photons have mass. Normally photons don’t interact with each other. You can shine two lasers through each other and the light goes on its merry way.
First, the scientists created a cloud of very cold rubidium atoms, just a few degrees above absolute zero. Then they sent individual photons into the cloud. When they sent in two photons, they left the cloud together, kind of like a photon molecule.
This could help create quantum computers.
Weird stuff. We’re used to the solid, liquid, and gas states. Many people know that plasma is a fourth state of matter. Bose-Einstein Condensate is a fifth that only exists close to absolute zero. Now they have photons with mass interacting with each other.