Caltech Watson Lecture: Dr. Jonas C. Peters on Making Molecules

Watson lectures are a staple of the Caltech community. LA residents are treated to presentations on cutting edge research from one of the world's most prestigious scientific institutions. Wednesday night was no exception.

Dr. Jonas Peters made his presentation on "Making Molecules" to a full house at Beckman Auditorium. His current research is focused on building organo-metallic molecules to assist in replicating the energy processes found in nature. What the heck does that mean, and why should we care? Two issues resonated with the audience.

Question: Are you a maker, measurer, thinker or tinkerer?

Issue One: Fertilizer

There are 7 billion people on this earth, and this number continues to grow. How will everyone be fed? It is vital that all arable land on the planet be as productive as possible to maximize the production of vittles. That requires fertilization of the soil. The production of fertilizer, which involves the nitrogen fixation process, uses 2-4% of the total energy budget of Earth! So: if we can find a way to fixate nitrogen with less energy, we can reduce energy consumption on a worldwide scale.

Issue Two: Photosynthesis

Plants live by generating energy from just sunlight and water, and give off the marvelous by-products of oxygen and hydrogen. However, the process is again very complex and not well-understood. If we could figure out how to do this artificially, we could solve energy shortages.

The key to solving both problems may lie with artificial materials whose molecules are designed, fabricated, and tested by Dr. Jonas' research team at Caltech. These customized molecules are being engineered today.

Don't worry: Dr. Peters is receiving plenty of attention, with funding sources for his labs coming from the U.S. Department of Energy to the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation (Dr. Gordon Moore is a Caltech Alumni and is best known as the founder of Intel).

It is great to know that such cutting edge work to better humanity is being conducted in Los Angeles County! Can you imagine the implications if the US no longer depended on fossil fuel and nuclear plants for energy?

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