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clean drop of water liquid

Scientists discover spontaneous production of hydrogen peroxide from water

Water is a strange molecule and even after centuries of research, irrespective of the number of strange things discovered about it, there are still unexpected results waiting to be unearthed. In a new case study, researchers in the United States have discovered that under the proper circumstances, water can spontaneously produce hydrogen peroxide which is a strange aspect of fundamental chemistry that was hiding in plain sight, unnoticed till now.  The work appears in PNAS journal.

Richard Zare, a chemist at Stanford University says that since water is one of the most commonly found elements which has been studied for several years, it is normally expected that there is nothing else to learn about it.

Scientists observed the phenomena with pure water, and just any form of water will not do. According to the team, hydrogen peroxide can be produced when water is atomized into microdroplets which measure between 1 micrometer to 20 micrometers in diameter. One micrometer is one-thousandth of a millimeter, hence it is understood that the droplets are very small in size. At this infinitesimal scale, hydrogen peroxide is formed spontaneously even when there is nothing else present apart from water.

For this process, there is no necessity of chemical reagent, catalyst, electrical potential or radiation. The only requirement is pure water in microdroplet form. This phenomenon was discovered accidentally in previous research while investigating how gold nanoparticles and nanowires can be produced using water droplets. Those experiments revealed that water microdroplets besides accelerating the synthesis of the gold nanostructures also results in their spontaneous formation.

Zare’s team conducted several tests such as spraying pure water microdroplets on a test strip which turned blue if hydrogen peroxide was present. The yield of hydrogen peroxide production was inversely proportional to the size of microdroplet. Researchers think that the spontaneous oxidation of water takes place due to the presence of strong intrinsic electric field between water and air microdroplets, where hydroxyl radicals combine to form hydrogen peroxide in the presence of an electric field.

Further research is needed to test this hypothesis, although there is no ambiguity regarding the generation of hydrogen peroxide itself. This could lead to more eco-friendly ways of producing hydrogen peroxide. Research like this opens doors to innovative opportunities such as green and affordable production of hydrogen peroxide, environment-friendly synthesis of chemicals, safe cleaning and food processing. This is a surprising discovery even to someone such as Zare who himself holds 11 honorary doctorates and considers it to be one of the most significant discoveries.

Research Paper: Spontaneous generation of hydrogen peroxide from aqueous microdroplets

Fusarium oxysporum strain fungi

Researchers discover interaction of fungi with gold deep inside Earth

The National Space Agency of Australia has found a gold digging fungus not from gold mines rather from deep inside the surface of the Earth. The fungus attaches gold to its strands undergoing an oxidation process which involves dissolving and precipitating gold particles which are so small that they are impossible to be seen by a naked eye.

Fungi oxidizes the tiny gold particles and precipitates them on its strands by a cycling process which contributes to how gold and other elements are dispensed off within and around the surface of the Earth. The fungi are quite famous for playing a crucial role in the degradation and recycling of organic material , which mainly includes leaves and bark and other metals such as aluminium , manganese and iron.

However, researchers are not yet sure whether the gold coated fungi is an indication of gold deposits under the surface of the Earth . Nonetheless, they believe that mineral does allow for some biological advantage. The fungi with their hankering for gold grow larger and spread faster that the normal ones which do not posses any affinity towards gold.

These fungi are hence, more diverse than others. This is henceforth, the first evidence that fungi play an important role in how gold is cycled around the surface of the Earth and can contribute to less invasive extraction of gold in the near future and can even be used as a bio-remediation tool to recover gold from waste.

There are many other plants and animals thriving on the surface of the Earth , hankering over gold. Eucalyptus trees are known to draw gold particles from as deep as ten metres under the Earth’s surface using their roots and branches. These are 60 million years old and use their leaves to deposit gold on them. There are many species of termites and ants which decorate the mounds with gold, that they carry from under the Earth’s surface. According to a report in Nature Communications , these mechanisms help to create a low impact in mining practices.

The fungi Fusarium oxysporum is harmless and can even form a symbiosis relationship with plants. Some strains of this fungi, however, contribute to the development of the most infectious plant disease worldwide, called Fusarium Wilt. The disease is so destructive that US government had proposed strains to serve as weapons to wipe out coca and other illegal plant growth under the ‘Agent Green” operation.