Clean Energy

We're about to introduce a new puzzle series with an awesome theme: clean energy. As many of you may know, hydrogen power is great. We can burn hydrogen to get energy, and the only byproduct is water. But where do we get the hydrogen from? Current technology does have the ability to extract hydrogen from various sources, but the processes for doing this aren't efficient enough for it to be practical. Our challenge is to use natural, renewable power sources to give us as much hydrogen as we want.

The Spiro Lab here at the University of Washington is designing a molecule which answers this challenge - a photo-electric hydrogenase catalyst. This molecule can absorb light to help power the ripping of hydrogen off of water. The molecule looks and acts a bit like heme, the thing that makes hemeglobin (and your blood) red. But instead of binding an oxygen atom, it will assemble and then release a molecule of hydrogen: H2.

So where does Foldit come in? Well, we need to deliver protons (charged hydrogen atoms) to the catalyst. To do this, we need to form a cavity around this heme-like catalyst that has space for a hydrogen atom, and lots of sidechains that can suck a second hydrogen atom out of the solvent like a sponge and bond it to the first hydrogen atom. Light will provide the power source, and a nearby electrode will allow electrons to flow to and from the catalyst. The protected pocket around the active catalytic site is a lot like what natural enzymes have, but in our case the central catalytic portion will be a molecule that we make ourselves.

For starters, we just want players to build all sorts of interesting structures around this symmetric molecule. Later on, we'll post puzzles that incentivize placement of hydrogen-bond-donating residues near the center of the catalyst, to help encourage hydrogen formation from water.

Try out the first new puzzle in this series now:

( Posted by DrLemming 79 2078  |  Fri, 10/19/2012 - 22:52  |  1 comment )
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Chat transcript posted

The transcript from the Scientist Chat with DrLemming about this new puzzle series has been posted here:

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