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New evidence for inorganic origin of oil


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Title: New evidence for inorganic origin of oil

New evidence for inorganic origin of oil The
origin of petroleum has long been an issue of
debate. Although many people believe crude oil
formed from plant and animal material in
near-surface sedimentary rocks at high
temperatures and pressures, a abiogenic origin
has also been proposed. Proposed in the 1950s,
the theory attributes oil formation to inorganic
carbonate rocks at high temperatures and
pressures found only at great depths. In the
latest development in this debate, researchers at
Gas Resources, Corp., Houston, and the Joint
Institute of Earth Physics, Moscow, have
predicted the thermodynamic conditions under
which the hydrocarbons found in crude oil form
and tested those conditions in the lab. They
reacted iron oxide, marble (CaCO3), and water at
condition reaching 1,500ºC and 50,000 atm.
Hydrocarbons ranging from methane to decane were
formed in proportions that mirror naturally
occurring petroleum. With the exception of
methane, hydrocarbons did not form at pressures
below 30,000 atm, which corresponds to about 100
km below the Earths surface. Taken together, the
theoretical and experimental results make the
biogenic theory untenable, the researchers
Abiogenic Hydrocarbons Born Under The
Sea Low-molecular-weight hydrocarbons found in
fluid that gushes from undersea hydrothermal
vents are thought to have abiogenic origins, but
that idea has been hard to confirm. Now, a
research team led by Giora Proskurowski of the
University of Washington and Woods Hole
Oceanographic Institution (WHOI) presents several
lines of evidence to support the theory. The
researchers believe that the hydrocarbons are
produced via Fischer-Tropsch reactions from
inorganic carbon under high-temperature and
high-pH conditions, and not from the breakdown of
organic matter like hydrocarbons in fossil fuels.
The team studied volatile hydrocarbons plucked
from vents in the Lost City Hydrothermal Field in
the Atlantic Ocean. The evidence includes the
finding that the mix contains mostly short-chain
alkanes and ethene and that the hydrocarbons
contain less 13C with increasing chain length.
"Abiogenic hydrocarbons may represent an
important source of carbon and energy for
microbes that inhabit vent environments as well
as a source of organic precursors from which life
evolved on early Earth," says Jeffrey S. Seewald,
a WHOI scientist and study coauthor.
Bombardier beetle fires defensive spray in
pulses   Thomas Eisner of Cornell University and
his colleagues report that a species of
bombardier beetle fires its defensive spray in
high-speed pulses rather than continuously, as
had been believed. The spray is generated by an
explosive chemical process. The group's
experimental subject was Stenaptinus insignis, a
relatively long bombardier beetle from Kenya. Its
body length is about 2 cm.   The beetle, when
disturbed, emits a jet-like spray from an
abdominal tip. The tip serves as a revolvable
turret that permits the beetle to aim the spray
in any direction. The emissions appear as a mist
and are accompanied by audible "pops". The spray,
whose active ingredients are p-benzoquinones,
fends off vertebrate and invertebrate predators.
S. insignis generates its spray in two large
glands that open at the abdominal tip. Each gland
has an inner chamber, or reservoir, containing
hydroquinones and hydrogen peroxide, and an
outer, or reaction, chamber containing the
oxidative enzymes catalase and peroxidases. The
reactants normally are kept apart by a valve
between the chambers. Sufficient aggravation
causes the beetle to compress the reservoir,
using muscles provided for the purpose, thus
forcing fluid through the valve and into the
reaction chamber. The resulting reaction produces
the p-benzoquinones explosively at the moment of
ejection. The spray is ejected at 100 C.
Definitive evidence for pulsed delivery was
obtained by high-speed cinematography, say Eisner
and his colleagues. They filmed 14 discharges
from seven beetles at 2670 and 4000 frames per
second. The films clearly resolved the burst-like
emissions that characterize the pulsations. The
pulse repetition rate averaged about 531 per
second. Spray emergence velocity was 1163 ? 330
cm per second. The beetle can spray about 30
times before it runs out of reactants it can
replenish its supply within a day.
Crime Of Chemistry "It was Mrs. Schuster, in the
chemistry lab, with the hydrochloric acid." Not a
game of Clue, regretfully, but a real-life
homicide. Police records state that Larissa
Schuster, now 47a biochemist who, along with her
estranged husband Timothy Schuster, co-owned the
Fresno-based Central California Research
Laboratoriesand James Fagone, now 25, former
assistant at the Schusters' lab, disabled Timothy
by knocking him out with a stun gun and
chloroform as he answered his front door. Fagone
and Larissa Schuster then dropped him headfirst
into a 55-gal container. According to
authorities, the two then poured HYDROCHLORIC
ACID into the barrel containing the
still-breathing man. Larissa Schuster may have
been a competent chemist, but she proved to be a
terrible criminal. She spoke multiple times about
wanting to kill her husband, took the
hydrochloric acid from her own lab, placed the
barrel containing his half-dissolved body in a
storage unit she rented, and covered the barrel
with a cardboard box labeled with her business'
shipping address. Consequently, Timothy
Schuster's body was discovered a few days after
his disappearance.
Fagone testified that Larissa Schuster paid him
2,000 to help rob and assault her husband but
was not aware murder was part of the plan.
Larissa Schuster testified that Fagone killed her
husband by accident and that she only helped
dispose of the body. It's a stretch to believe
that someone could "accidentally" fall headfirst
into a barrel of hydrochloric acid, and the jury
didn't buy it. Larissa Schuster was convicted of
first-degree murder on Dec. 12, 2007. She faces
life in prison without parole at sentencing,
which is scheduled for Jan. 16. Fagone faces the
same fate. He was convicted in December 2006 of
murder in the first degree and sentenced to life
in prison without the possibility of parole.
Hydrochloric acid in the news   Hydrochloric acid
made the news at least twice in April.   S.
Venkatsen sent from Troy, MI, an exchange from an
advice column in the Detroit Free Press for April
4. The write, upon starting his car, had heard a
loud bang under the hood. He raised the hood and
found the top of the battery in pieces. His
question What was the cause? The answer "The
mixture of water and hydrochloric acid in a
battery produces hydrogen gas. An arc across
the battery apparently ignited the gas, causing
the explosive result."   Two weeks later, in the
Wilmington, DE, News Journal, for April 19, an
anonymous reader found this correction   "A
Tuesday article about a chemical accident at the
Dover YMCA incorrectly said muriatic
hydrochloric acid is used to raise the water's
acidity level. It should have said muriatic acid
is used to lower the water's pH level.
Vinegaroon The whipscorpion, or vinegaroon, has
survived for 300 million years by defending
itself with a discharge that is 84 percent acetic
acid. Its spray also includes caprylic acid
(octanoic acid), a foul-smelling spreading agent
that promotes penetration. The creature has
excellent aim and can fire many times in
Peruvian wound treatment explained Trials with
mice confirm that a traditional Peruvian medicine
can help heal wounds, report researchers based in
Kentucky and Peru (J. Nat. Prod.). Peruvians use
an infusion of a plant called Anredera diffusa to
wash wounds. They also use the wet leaves of the
plant, which is commonly known as lloto, as a
wound dressing. Gerald B. Hammond of the
University of Louisville, Abraham J. Vaisberg of
Cayetano Heredia University in Lima, and their
colleagues found that an ethanolic extract ofthe
plant's leaves and stems showed wound-healing
activity inmice and was nontoxic. After
hydrolyzing and fractionatingthe extract, the
team determined that the wound-healingfraction
contained oleanolic acid (shown). Theresearchers
found that wounds treated withthe compound heal
significantly fasterthan untreated wounds.
Oleanolicacid is an inexpensive,
commerciallyavailable product that is
currentlyused in skin care products.
A turn of the century remedy for hiccoughs   A
cure for hiccoughs reported here prompted Helen
Stanbro to send in a copy of a page from a book
that her grandmother used to raise her family at
the beginning of the century, "The Household
Physician" (Woodruff Publishing Co., Boston,
1905). Stanbro, who hails from Los Alamos, NM,
says, "It amazes me that anyone survived."   The
page in question gives the authors' cure for
hiccoughs, described as "a sudden jerking spasm
of the midriff, occurring every few moments in
bad cases, causing the air to be driven out of
the lungs with such suddenness as to produce a
noise like the involuntary yelp of a puppy." The
authors recommend several cures, but the one that
caught Stanbro's attention was "cocaine,
one-eighth grain every fifteen minutes is a very
simple remedy." (A grain for those not in touch,
is .002285 oz or 0.0648 gram.)   When the
hiccoughs were severe, Stanbro notesfor example,
in the last stages of yellow feverthe authors
recommended adding brandy and strychnine to the
cocaine. The patient, she says in so many words,
probably didn't care whether the cure worked.
Cocaine free base oily liquid insoluble in H2O
Caution urged with urine tests as screen for
drugs James Abelson of the University of Michigan
has written a cautionary letter on screening
people for drugs by urine analysis. He reports
the case of a 26-year-old woman who responded to
an advertisement for normal subjects for a
research project to be conducted by him and his
colleagues. The woman went through the physical
examination with flying colors until a urine test
for illicit drugs came out positive for opiates.
Gas chromatography-mass spectroscopy showed
morphine and codeine. The woman "convincingly
denied" any known use of opiates, so they
reviewed her recent oral intake. The problem, it
developed, was a lemon poppy seed muffin the
woman had eaten five hours before the urine test.
A test run six days after she ate the muffin was
negative for opiates. She then ate a second
muffin and, five hours later, her urine again
tested positive for opiates. With this, she was
cleared of hanky-panky and accepted the research
project. The Michigan scientists learned from a
literature search that "the ability of poppy
seeds to produce positive urine tests for
morphine and codeine is will established." A
survey of colleagues in the departments of
psychiatry and internal medicine showed that only
a few knew of the poppy seed problem. The
director of the drug analysis lab was aware of
it, but doubted that one muffin could do the job.
Tunbridge site of giant battery, many
experiments   Hugh Anderson sent from St. Johns,
Newfoundland, Canada, a story involving a giant
battery. It came from the diary of William Allen
of the Quaker pharmaceutical house of Allen
Hanburys, in England. The account was printed,
Anderson says, in "Through A City Archway," a
history of the company by D. Chapman-Houston and
E.C. Cripps that was published in 1954. Here's
the story   "This is an account from his 1813
diary given in full of a visit William Allen and
a large number of English chemists paid to the
large, private laboratory set up in Tunbridge by
John George Children, Secretary to the Royal
"1813 Seventh month 2nd. To town at eight
o'clock. About ten set off in a post-chaise with
Wilson Lowry and Dr. Thompson for Tunbridge. We
reached Children's about four. There was a great
assemblage of English chemistsDrs. Wollaston,
Tenant, Davy, Hatchett, etc. etc. Thirty-eight of
us dined together. Held a committee which did not
break up till between twelve and one. Children
kindly provided lodging for all. "3rd, very
busy in assisting in preparation for the
experiments. The battery consisted of twenty
pieces of copper and zinc plates, six feet by two
feet eight breadth of cells, two inches,
distance between each, four and a half inches
about one part acid to thirty of water by
measure the acid composed of three parts nitric,
and one part sulphuric melted iridiumthe pure
metal is easier melted than its ore we also
performed many other experiments. Set off with my
former companions between three and four o'clock,
reached Newington about nine, very tired. This
works out to about 1500 lbs of copper per plate!
Fan of electric pickle explains why it
glows   Jeffrey Appling wrote from Lexington, KY,
to "shed more light" on the pickle that glows in
the dark. He says he belongs to "a loose net of
electric pickle aficionados" that includes Mr.
Wizard and his assistant, Steve Jacobs the
Amazing Randi Penn Gillette Scot Morris, who
wrote on the topic for Omni in December 1990 and
scores of others who "have basked in the gentle
glow of pickle luminescence. When 110 volt ac
current is applied to a dill pickle pinioned
between electrodes, Appling explains, the salt
and acid provide the conductivity needed to
sustain a discharge. Sodium ions pick up
electrons from the flowing current and become
sodium atoms in an excited state. These then
decay to the ground state, emitting the
characteristics yellow sodium D line near 589 nm.
This signature indicates free atomic emission of
sodium, Appling says, so he assumes that it
occurs within gas pockets created around the
sparking electrodes. The flesh of the pickle
diffuses the light, causing the glowing
effect. Appling has submitted a paper on the
topictitled "Sodium D Line Emission from
Pickles"to the Journal of Chemical Education. He
and his coauthors think the technique should be
useful as a classroom demonstration of atomic
The Meanings of Organic, Inorganic, and
Natural Larry Pollack sent from Newington, VA, a
gardening column that appeared in the New York
Times, in which Dora Galitzki sets out to clarify
for her readers the commonly misunderstood
terms organic, inorganic, and natural. She gives
chemical definitions of organic and inorganic and
says natural simply means something that occurs
in nature or is made from things that occur in
nature. Over the last few years, Galitzki then
writes, gardeners have added value judgments to
these otherwise neutral definitions. Inorganic
now reeks of heavy metals, diabolical poisons,
and large, windowless factories owned by faceless
international conglomerates. If these are your
images, try to remember a few simple facts. Pure
water is inorganic. Agent orange is organic. And
there is nothing more natural than the venom of a
pit viper capable of killing a cow without
batting an eye.
Jim Gasper of Chelmsford, MA, was relieved by a
press report that trees would be sprayed this
week due to an infestation of gypsy moths and
aphids. The material to be applied is
environmentally safe since it is an organic
compound, not a chemical. ? ? The Minneapolis
Star Tribune of Feb 10 carried a Fixit column
that caught the eye of both Martin Allen of
Golden Valley, MN, and Darlene Kroening of St.
Paul. It reads as follows Soy candles burn
cleaner and have a lower melting temperature than
paraffin candles. They burn cleaner because soy
oil is a natural plant oil and does not contain
carbon like paraffin.
a triglyceride (animal fat or vegetable oil)
a high paraffin hydrocarbon
Mushrooms fight back   William Wood and his
coworkers at Humboldt State University find that
certain mushrooms, when bitten by slugs,
synthesize a slug repellent that drives them off.
The work started when the people involved were
collecting wild mushrooms in the coastal rain
forests of the Pacific Northwest. They noticed
that some mushrooms had small bite marks on their
caps, as if they had been tasted and rejected by
the giant banana slug. They followed up with
research on the sweetbread mushroom, having
observed slugs tasting this species and quickly
turning to others.   The sweetbread mushroom,
say Wood and coworkers, is a highly edible
species found in North America and Europe. People
usually cook it before eating it. The authors
found that rupturing the tissue of the mushroom,
as munching slugs would do, releases the slug
repellent 1-octen-3-ol. Comparison of volatile
chemicals in crushed and uncrushed mushrooms
showed that crushing increased the level of the
volatile repellent 19-fold. In the laboratory,
banana slugs refused to eat lettuce treated with
similar amounts of the repellent.
To humans, say Wood and his colleagues,
1-octen-3-ol smells like a typical mushroom. The
compound has been identified in many species of
mushrooms (but not the one commonly eaten by
banana slugs), so its slug antifeedant activity
may be widespread in nature. Mushrooms synthesize
the chemical from linoleic acid. The compound has
been shown to have antibacterial as well as
antislug activity, the authors say, and so may
protect mushrooms from microbes trying to invade
a slug-inflicted wound.
(No Transcript)
Antibiotic secretions from deers' feet win U.S.
patent   Black-tailed deer have glands on their
feet that secrete compounds with antibiotic
properties, according to William Wood of Humboldt
State University, Arcata, CA. Wood has patented
synthetic versions of the compounds. The main
compound secreted by the black-tailed deer's feet
is 3-tridecen-2-one. It inhibits the growth of a
narrow range of organismsincluding bacteria and
fungithat live on the skin. It might be useful,
Wood believes, for treating acne, dandruff,
athlete's foot, and other conditions of human
skin. It doesn't kill beneficial skin bacteria,
Wood says, and it doesn't dissolve in water, so
it will sit on the skin for a long time. The
black-tailed deer antibiotics have not yet been
tried in animal tests.
Bill-collecting compound   In London, the British
company Bodywise revealed that it is offering a
product called Aeolus 7 to collection agencies
for 6000 per g. The active ingredient is a
pheromone, androstenone, from sweat secreted by
men from their armpits and groins. It appears to
act like magic on people who owe money. Bodywise
tried Aeolus 7 in Australia on bills sent out by
a mail-order cosmetics firm. Of 1000 bills, half
were treated with Aeolus 7 and half were not. The
treated bills elicited 17 more payments than the
untreated bills.
Bill-collecting compound misspelled or
spurious   R.E. Juday of Missoula, MT, pointed
out that androstenone does not appear in the
Merck Index. Juday suggested also that the
pheromone in question very likely was
5a-androst-16-en-3a-ol. A major constituent of
boar sweat that also has been detected in human
male axillary sweat. Inquiries into the original
news item have proved fruitless, and Juday
presumably is correct. Joe Arrigo of Palatine,
Ill., meanwhile recalled that when the boar
steroid was first found in human male axillary
sweat, in 1980, it was touted as a human sex
pheromone and used in a cologne billed as the
"first pheromone-based fragrance." No frenzies
resulted, Arrigo notes, and no magic human sex
pheromone had yet been found. It wouldn't work
anyway, he goes on. "Not since our ancestors
dwelled in caves have humans depended on a keen
sense of smell for their survival."
Pheromones from men affect women Exposure to male
armpit secretions reduces tension and enhances
relaxation in women, as well as altering hormone
pulses that may affect the length and timing of
the menstrual cycle, a recent study
shows. Researchers at the Monell Chemical Senses
Center have found that male armpit secretions
contain two types of pheromones a modulator,
which modifies mood, and a primer, which alters
endocrine responses. The change in womens mood
was gleaned from responses to a mood-rating
scale. The endocrine effect was measured through
pulsing of luteinizing hormone (LH). Bursts of LH
secretion precede ovulation and increase in
frequency as ovulation nears. On average,
exposure to male armpit extracts reduced the time
to the next burst by 20. Whether the emotional
and endocrine effects are due to the same or
different compounds is unknown. Chemical
characterization of the active components in the
extracts is under way.
Queen mandibular pheromone   Last summer,
scientists at Simon Fraser University, Burnaby,
British Columbia, reported their work on the
queen bee's pheromonal control of her troops.
Mark Winston and Keith Slessor have figured out
the composition of the secretion involved and
have explored possible commercial applications.
Bee scientists have recognized for more than 30
years that the queen's pheromones mediate worker
and colony reproduction and influence broad
aspects of foraging and other activities.
Scientists have also identified certain active
elements of the pheromones, but realized that
they did not have the full picture. Analyses of
crushed bee heads produced laundry lists of
chemical, but none proved active. In 1985, the
Canadian investigators quite by accident put a
glass lure coated with queen mandibular extract
on a lab bench next to some stray worker bees.
The worker bees immediately formed a retinue
around the lure, indicating that it was coated
with the real McCoy or something close to it.
Winston, Slessor, and their colleagues
eventually found that queen mandibular pheromone,
as it is called, is a mixture of five molecules
(E)-9-keto-2-decenoic acid both enantiomers of
(E)-9-hydroxy-2-decenoic acid methyl
p-hydroxy-benzoate and 4-hydroxy-3-methoxy-phenyl
Several uses of queen mandibular pheromone are
near commercialization, say Winston, and Slessor.
One use permits packages of worker bees to be
shipped without queens, for example, and may also
be useful as an attractant for swarms. The most
valuable use, however, may be in promoting
pollination. Trees and berries experimentally
sprayed with queen mandibular pheromone nearly
always attract up to twice the normal number of
worker bees. Increases in yield and quality are
more variable, but very promising. . .
Bee Brainwashing   Using chemicals to prevent
someone from forging bad memories smacks of
brainwashing, but this is precisely what a queen
bee does to the young worker bees that tend to
her. Queen bees keep their young servants happy
by means of homovanillyl alcohol (HVA). It is one
of several pheromones a queen uses to maintain
control of her hive. Its been known for a while
that the queen's pheromones block ovary
development in worker bees and inspire the worker
bees to clean and feed her but the big discovery
is that HVA is directly influencing brain
chemistry. Researchers found that when young bees
were exposed to HVA, they were incapable of
learning to associate a nasty experience with a
smell, a process that neurobiologists call
aversive learning. HVA did not prevent the
association of a good experience with a smell,
so-called appetitive learning. The social perk
achieved by preventing these young nursebees
from developing aversive memories againstodors
in the hiveincluding the queen's own odoris
colony security. Thwarting bad memories
reducesaggressive behavior among the masses deep
within a hive.
Female elephants, moths signal mates with same
compound   As different as elephants are from
moths, they share a mating ritual the females
release the volatile ester (Z)-7-dodecen-1-yl
acetate to signal their readiness to mate. Many
insects, especially moths, excrete this ester in
their pheromone mixtures. In work that may find
use in the breeding of elephants in captivity, L.
E. L. (Bets) Rasmussen, associate professor of
chemistry at Oregon Graduate Institute of Science
Technology, and colleagues at three other
institutions recently identified the compound in
the urine of preovulatory elephants. Very few
vertebrate pheromones have previously been
identified. The feat comes 14 years after
Rasmussen and other coworkers observed that
something in the urine of a cow elephants elicits
a specific behavior in malesthe Flehmen
response. A bull elephant detects the ester by
touching the urine or urogenital orifice of a
female. If the compound is present, the bull then
inserts the tip of its trunk into ductal orifices
leading to a chemoreceptive organ found on the
roof of its mouth. Bulls display this behavior
frequently when the female is in heat, and the
response correlates with penile erections.
Plastic Parts Devised for Disadvantaged
Dogs Polypropylene replacement testicles for
neutered dogs are selling like hotcakes,
according to a dispatch from Reuters. The
manufacturers president, Gregg Miller, invented
the ersatz testicles, trade name Neuticles, and
says, We're doing six to 10 U.S. implants per
day. As of mid-September, he said, Neuticles had
been implanted in more than 900 dogs in the U.S.
since last March, when the product hit the
market. Miller got the idea of Neuticles when
his bloodhound, Buck, was neutered. I felt bad,
he said. Buck felt bad. It dawned on me that
this 200-year-old procedure needed to be
updated. Whether Buck really did feel bad
appears to be speculative. Veterinarian Alan
Lipowitz of Minneapolis, told Reuters it was not
known whether dogs suffer psychologically from
neutering. Anyway, Miller took his idea to
veterinarian Richard Holder, who told him he was
crazy. Still, Holder agreed to develop the
implantation procedure. Neuticles are installed
in the dog's scrotum in a two-minute procedure
immediately following removal of the original
testicles. No complications have been reported,
Miller said. Neuticles are shaped like jelly
beans and come in five sizes to suit dogs from
Chihuahuas to Great Danes. Prices range from 28
for an extra small pair to 32 for large.
Miller says people "are aghast" when they first
hear about Neuticles. If they aren't dog owners,
moreover, they think the product is silly. But he
believes that the implants can help to stem the
apparently growing population of unwanted pets by
encouraging squeamish owners to have their dogs
neutered. Before, Miller says, you had only
one option With these, the dog looks the same.
He feels the same. He doesn't even know he has
been neutered. Asked for comment, Martha
Armstrong of the Humane Society of the U.S. said,
We think it's kind of silly, but if this is
going to be something that encourages owners to
have their dogs neutered, then fine.
Veterinarian Lipowitz, meanwhile, despite his
doubts about Neuticles doing anything for a dog's
self-esteem, goes along. He says, If it makes
the owner feel better and doesn't do any harm to
the dog, then good. Neuticles are big news in
the veterinarian industry, Miller claims. We
have I love Neuticles bumper stickers
available. Implants for cats, he said are being
Classic tale of poisoning joins fiction with
fact   Dominick Labianca of Brooklyn College,
City University of New York, has recalled a
classic tale of thallium poisoning in London that
includes several of the right ingredientsAgatha
Christie, Scotland Yard, a convicted murderer, a
mysterious illness, and the oil-rich emirate
Qatar on the Persian Gulf. In 1976, the year
Agatha Christie died, Labianca writes, a
19-month-old girl from Qatar was admitted to
London's Hammersmith Hospital. She was suffering
from ataxia, which involves lack of muscular
coordination, and had had a grand mal convulsion
10 days earlier. She had become increasingly
clumsy and lethargic, parts of her skin were
raised and hyperpigmented, and she began to lose
a good deal of hair. The attending physicians,
T.G. Matthews and V. Dubowitz, suspected
encephalitis. They could not make a definitive
diagnosis, however, despite having evaluated the
girl extensively.
Meanwhile, nurse Marsha Maitland, while caring
for the girl, had been reading Agatha Christie's
murder mystery "The Pale Horse," in which people
were dropping like flies from thallium poisoning.
Christie described the victims' symptoms, and
Maitland saw that they were strikingly similar to
those of her patient. She mentioned the point to
Matthews and Dubowitz, who then had the child's
urine tested for thalliumnot part of their
routine toxics screenwith the assistance of the
forensic people at Scotland Yard. The test showed
3.7 ?g of thallium per L, more than 10 times the
permitted maximum. (It has been stressed,
Labianca notes, that any trace of thallium in
urine should be considered abnormal.) The Yard
also told Matthews and Dubowitz that nearby
Wormwood Scribbs Prison contained one Graham
Young, who was doing life for killing two of his
fellow workers with thallium(I) acetate. They
consulted physician Peter Rudge, one of the
forensic specialists who had studied Young's
victims. With Rudge's help, they started treating
the Qatar child.
The treatment was oral administration of 1 g of
potassium chloride three times a day and 250 mg
per kg per day of soluble Prussian bluepotassium
ferric ferrocyanide or potassium iron(III)
hexacyanoferrate(II). The idea was twofold
thallium replaced potassium in the lattice of
Prussian blue to form an insoluble compound,
preventing further absorption of thallium from
the gastrointestinal tract and speeding fecal
excretion potassium supplementation released
tissue-bound thallium speeding urinary excretion.
The treatment worked. After three weeks, the
girl from Qatar contained no measurable thallium.
Labianca points out, however, that recovery from
thallium poisoning is often unpredictable. What
works for one patient may not work for another.
He describes other measures, including
hemodialysis and administration of diuretics and
activated charcoal.
A common practice in the Middle East at the time
the Qatar girl was stricken was the use of
thallium-based preparations against cockroaches
and rodents in the drains and septic tanks of
houses. The presumption, Labianca says, is that
somehow she consumed such a product. For some
years, thallium-based preparations were used as
insecticides and rodenticides and as a depilatory
both for cosmetic reasons and treatment of
ringworm of the scalp. The incidence of thallium
poisoning finally led to controls. Thallium-based
therapeutic preparations were eliminated many
countries, including the U.S. in the 1960s,
placed strict regulations on the sale of
thallium-based household products. Even so,
Labianca says, "it is quite possible that, in the
U.S. at least, many such products once sold for
use against roaches, water bugs, ants, mice,
rats, and other pests can still be found in
various dwellings."
Mail irradiation discolors gems   The Gemological
Institute of America (GIA), Carlsbad, CA, finds
that the irradiation process the U.S. Postal
Service (USPS) is using to kill anthrax and other
organisms that might be in the mail can produce
dramatic changes in the color of gems. In a
preliminary study, white cultured pearls turned
gray, pale blue sapphires turned deep orange, and
pink kunzites turned green. Diamonds showed no
perceptible color change.   GIA ran its study
with the cooperation of SureBeam, a subsidiary of
Titan Corp., San Diego, which makes the equipment
USPS is using. SureBeams beam of high-energy
electrons is used typically to kill
microorganisms in food. The same kind of ionizing
radiation is often used intentionally to change
the color of gems.   Gems and jewelry are often
shipped by U.S. mail. GIAs Shane McClure says
USPS is irradiating only a small amount of
letters and other flat mail. Still, McClure says,
we think the results of our research can help
the jewelry industry and the public avoid
potentially negative effects on their gem
materials by choosing packaging that would be
less likely to undergo irradiation.
Naturally occurring 209Bi, once considered the
heaviest stable isotope, has been caught
radioactively decaying awayalbeit very slowlyby
a team of French researchers. The isotope was
suspected of being radioactive, but until now a
sufficiently sensitive detector had not been
made. The isotope decays by a emission to 205Tl
and has a half-life of 1.9 ? 1019 years. That
leaves 208Pb as the heaviest known stable isotope.
Bomb tests aid tooth dating   Forensic scientists
have a new tool for determining the age of
unidentified human remains, thanks to the
above-ground nuclear bomb tests that took place
from 1955 to 1963. Before 1955, the amount of
C-14 in the atmosphere was relatively constant,
but atmospheric concentration of the radioactive
isotope spiked dramatically with nuclear bomb
tests and has been steadily declining since
above-ground testing stopped. Because tooth
enamel for individual teeth forms at distinct
times during childhood and contains a small
amount of carbon, Kirsty Spalding, Jonas Frisén,
and coworkers from Swedens Karolinska Institute
reasoned that they could correlate atmospheric
and enamel C-14 concentration to determine the
age of an individual tooth, and therefore, the
age of the person that the tooth belonged to.
Spaldings group tested the technique on 22
people and accurately determined their ages
within 1.6 years. That result is far more precise
than those obtained with current methods used to
determine age, which have a 5- to 10-year margin
of error.
Earth Shows Its Age  Using neodymium-based
isotope dating, Jonathan O'Neil of McGill
University, in Montreal, and colleagues have
identified what could be the oldest rocks ever
found on Earth. The researchers collected the
samples from the Nuvvuagittuq greenstone belt, an
expanse of exposed bedrock on the eastern shore
of Hudson Bay in northern Quebec. The rocks are
composed of cummingtonite, plagioclase, biotite,
and quartz, and in some cases they also contain
garnet. The team measured ratios of 142Nd, 143Nd,
and 147Sm to 144Nd in order to date the rock
samples. The results indicate that the rocks are
4.28 billion years old, which suggests the
formation "may represent the oldest preserved
crustal section on Earth," which itself is some
4.6 billion years old, the researchers note.
Samples collected at the Acasta gneiss in
Canada's Northwest Territories held the former
record of 4.03 billion years for whole rocks.
However, isolated zircon mineral grains that
formed some 4.36 billion years ago have been
found in Western Australia.