Spring Scholarship Talks / Germán Mora & Rodney Yoder

On the Hunt for a Rock that Breathes 

Germán Mora, Center for Natural Sciences 

Since antiquity, breathing has been the telltale sign of being alive, even though, for millennia, nobody knew what really happened during breathing.  The rise of chemistry solved this mystery, showing that, at its most basic form, breathing is the chemical exchange of gases necessary to harvest the energy that maintains a living organism alive.  Could rocks breathe?  For centuries, this idea was considered absurd.  Thought to have no easily accessible energy, rocks were considered inhospitable enough for microorganisms to latch onto them for their energy.  These ideas turned out to be incorrect.  Microorganisms indeed harvest minerals, making them appear as if they were breathing.  Based on these findings, it seems logical, then, that microorganisms should be able to decompose organic remains that are hundreds of millions of years old, and I decided to investigate this prediction, an investigation that led me to search for organic-rich rocks that breathe, a telltale sign of their decomposition.  In this talk, I will narrate the journey of my search, a tale with many legal, technological, and financial twists and turns that ended with a roadblock presented by a non-breathing entity, which, with a single strand of genetic code, wreaked havoc on my plans and on those of most people in our society. 


Building a matchbox-sized electron accelerator  

Rodney Yoder, Center for Natural Sciences

Particle accelerators include enormous lab facilities that enable fundamental physics discoveries, but also room-sized machines that are common in health care, industry, and defense.  If electron accelerators could be made tiny (millimeter-sized) as well as cheap, interesting new applications would become possible, and recent research has made progress toward a laser-powered microaccelerator.  My experimental project aims to demonstrate a new method for producing pinpoint electron beams that travel at nearly light speed, using unusual materials called pyroelectric crystals.  These materials can generate very strong electric fields when heated or cooled; in the design I have developed, electrons are emitted from a nanometer-scale needle tip and travel through a channel in a series of crystals, potentially reaching 75% of the speed of light in a few centimeters.  I will describe measurements on crystal behavior and control, first results on accelerated beams from a crystal, and next steps for the project. 


Thursday, April 15 at 12:00pm to 1:15pm

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