Research across the universe spans multibillion-dollar industry at home

Note to journalists: Please report that this research was presented at a meeting of the American Chemical Society

ANAHEIM, March 27 2011 — Scientists are spending scarce government money to study mysterious black stripes in the rainbow of light given off by celestial objects millions of light-years across the universe. There is no practical use for knowledge about these colors missing from the glow of Andromeda, Triangulum and other distant galaxies. Nevertheless, their research on this arcane topic, termed Diffuse Interstellar Bands (DIBs), gives birth to a new, multibillion-dollar-per-year industry on Earth.

Unlikely as it may sound, that scenario actually happened, and a Nobel laureate today cited it as a prime example of why society should continue funding research in astronomy and other scientific disciplines that has no obvious immediate use.

“The potential benefits of spending money to understand what’s going on across the galaxy, despite these tough economic times, are enormous,” Harold Kroto, Ph.D., said in a presentation at the 241st National Meeting & Exposition of the American Chemical Society. “It is absolutely vital that the public realize that some of the most important discoveries are the unexpected ones.”

Media Contact

During the meeting, March 27-31, the contacts can be reached at:

Michael Bernstein

Michael Woods

The meeting, being held here this week, is one of the largest scientific conferences of 2011. It will include almost 9,500 technical presentations, with an attendance estimated at 13,000. Held during the International Year of Chemistry (IYC), it will take place at the Anaheim Convention and Exhibition Center and at area hotels.

Kroto, who is with Florida State University, shared the 1996 Nobel Prize in Chemistry with Robert Curl and the late Richard Smalley for the discovery of carbon-60 — or Buckminsterfullerene or “buckyball” — a new form of carbon that gave birth to nanotechnology. Estimates suggest that global sales of nanotechnology products, tools, and devices will top $20 billion in 2011 and $1.5 trillion by 2015.

In his presentation, Kroto explained how the quest to understand DIBs ultimately led to discovery of buckyballs, as scientists did laboratory experiments to test theories about the nature of DIBs.

Kroto’s talk is one of several presentations that are part of the ACS meeting’s multidisciplinary program that includes the theme of the Chemistry of Natural Resources. Other presentations in the symposium’s plenary session include

  • Artificial photosynthesis, the final solution of humanity´s energy problems? Björn Åkermark, Ph.D., Department of Organic Chemistry, Stockholm University, Stockholm, Sweden. March 27, 3:50 p.m. Pacific time, Hilton Anaheim, Pacific Ballroom A/B/C.
  • How can bioenergy be made sustainable? Stephen S. Kelley, Ph.D., Department of Forest Biomaterials, North Carolina State University, Raleigh, N.C., Sunday, March 27, 4:30 p.m. Pacific time, Hilton Anaheim, Pacific Ballroom A/B/C.
  • Petro- vs. bio-based polymers, Piet J. Lemstra, Ph.D., Department of Chemical Engineering and Chemistry, Eindhoven University of Technology, Eindhoven, The Netherlands, March 27, 5:10 p.m. Pacific time, Hilton Anaheim, Pacific Ballroom A/B/C.

Other presentations relating to the meeting’s theme include

  • Biomimetic approaches to artificial photosynthesis. Progress in developing photosynthesis in the laboratory. Michael R. Wasielewski, Ph.D., Northwestern University. March 27, 2:30 p.m., Anaheim Convention Center, Ballroom D/E.
  • Development of hazelnut shell hydrolysate pretreatment technology for ethanol production. A novel method for producing ethanol. Yesim Arslan, Ph.D , GaziI University, Ankara, Turkey. March 31, 5:10 p.m., Anaheim Hilton, Avila B.
  • Sustainable production of biofuels. A look at the cost-effective production of biofuels from renewable materials. Jay D. Keasling, Ph.D., U.C. Berkeley. March 29, 3:40 p.m., Anaheim Marriott, Grand Ballroom F.
  • Cereal antioxidant dietary fiber for weight management and prevention of chronic disease. An explanation of exactly how natural fiber in cereals improves health. Vincenzo Fogliano, Ph.D., University of Naples Federico II, Portici, Italy. March 28, 3:25 p.m., Anaheim Marriott, Orange County III.
  • Diesel fuel with low aromatic content. A process for lessening the unpleasant odor of this popular form of fuel. Börje Gevert Ph.D., March 31, 10:30 a.m., Anaheim Marriott, Grand Ballroom G.
  • Solar energy conversion and utilization for fuels and energy production. The use of nanoparticles to create solar fuels. Yongming Tian, University of New Mexico. March 28, 8 p.m., Anaheim Convention Center, Hall B.
  • Natural products as sources of and leads to drugs. A close look at the latest findings about natural substances that can be used to formulate medications. David J. Newman, National Cancer Institute. March 29, 8:30 a.m., Anaheim Convention Center, Ballroom A.

Examining the ultimate fate of spilled oil using high precision dissolved inorganic carbon isotope measurements. A precise method for determining effects of major oil spills. Jay A Brandes, Skidaway Institute of Oceanography, Savannah, Ga. March 28, 10:30 a.m., Sheraton Park Hotel at the Anaheim Resort, Park, Ballroom B.


Andromeda Galaxy with three inset fields where
astronomers have discovered diffuse interstellar