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Blackadder style chemists transform gold into purest ... purple

Descendant of James Watt in fruity feat

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Boffins in Utah have achieved a Blackadder-esque scientific feat by turning gold into purest purple. It's hoped that this will lead to a novel means of harvesting solar power.

According to a statement issued yesterday by Utah uni Brigham Young, local chemistry prof Richard Watt and students working in his lab came to suspect – for reasons best known to themselves – that a certain type of protein would respond to sunlight as the chlorophyll in green plants does: that is it would harvest solar energy in an endothermic chemical reaction, potentially allowing that energy to be released later.

In the case of plants, carbon dioxide is broken down into carbon and oxygen, which can later be recombined in myriad ways to generate heat, power animal metabolisms etc etc.

Watt and his colleagues' approach was slightly different. According to the BYU spokespersons:

They started with citric acid from oranges and mixed it with the protein. Next they dissolved gold powder into the solution. Then they put vials of the yellow-colored mixture in direct sunlight and crossed their fingers in the hope that it would turn purple.

Here's the reason why: If it turned purple, that would signal that the gold atoms had received electrons and used the donated energy to bunch together as small, purple-colored nanoparticles. And that would mean that the protein used the sunlight to excite the citric acid and trigger a transfer of energy.

Success was theirs: within 20 minutes, Watt held in his mortal hands a flask of purest ... purple.

The team believe that the purple sunlight-storing protein can be incorporated into a battery or fuel cell and so output its solar harvest in the form of electricity.

Full boffinry detail is available here courtesy of the Journal of Nanoparticle Research. Readers may be interested to note that Professor Watt is apparently a descendant of James Watt, the 18th-century Scottish engineer who famously improved the Newcomen steam engine and in the process kick-started the Industrial Revolution (though there are those who'd argue that his rigorously enforced patents thereafter held it back somewhat). ®

Bootnote

For those who are missing the Blackadder reference: we refer to the episode in the second series where Lord Percy attempts to repair Blackadder's finances by alchemy – the transmutation of base matter into gold. He only manages to create an unpleasant substance referred to as "purest green", however.

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