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BGU Student Captures 100-Year-Old Mystery Chemical Reaction

BGU Student Captures 100-Year-Old Mystery Chemical Reaction

August 8, 2023

Research News, Sustainability & Climate Change

The Israeli experiment that captured a chemical reaction that has eluded scientists for 100 years.

ISRAEL21c — Hundreds of millions of tons of plastic are produced each year thanks to a chemical reaction in three related molecules — ethane, ethyl and ethylene.

And yet, no scientists actually witnessed these reactions, until an Israeli PhD student studying something else unintentionally did exactly that.

“At first, I didn’t know what we had done,” admits PhD student Nadav Genossar-Dan from Ben-Gurion University of the Negev. “It was only when I was looking at the data we collected that I realized we had managed to observe this important chemical.”

Genossar-Dan was leading an experiment with ethylidene, which is closely related to ethane and ethyl. He required a tool called a synchrotron, which produces vacuum ultraviolet light, to heat the molecule until it cracks apart briefly.

Since there are only a few synchrotrons around the world, he booked a one-week experiment in the Swiss Light Source synchrotron, and then worked around the clock with his group members and the hosting scientist to run the experiments.