- The Washington Times - Monday, January 27, 2003

STUDENTS DIG UP LONGEST NAUTILOID

A few yards from two of the busiest roads in Fayetteville, Ark., a 325-million-year-old treasure lay buried. Last week three University of Arkansas students hunting for fossils at a culvert near Interstate 540 — hoping to get a 3-foot nautiloid they heard might be there — dug up an 8-foot nautiloid fossil, the longest ever found. The students were digging, noticed some calcite and knew they were onto something so they called their adviser, Geology Professor Walter Manger. "I was skeptical until I got down there to see it for myself. But these students knew exactly what they had," Manger said. Only one other comparable nautiloid fossil is known to exist, a 7-foot-2 specimen also discovered in Fayetteville in 1963. Belonging to the extinct species Rayonnoceras solidiforme, both fossil specimens would have lived during the Mississippian era, when much of the southern United States lay submerged beneath a shallow sea. A type of cephalopod related to the modern-day squid, these organisms normally grew no more than 3 or 4 feet.

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NEW MOLECULES GREAT IONIZERS

Cesium has long been considered the champ when it comes to ionizing or giving up electrons but that distinction soon could belong to a new class of stable molecules University of Arizona researchers say ionize easier than anything on the periodic table. "The ease with which an atom gives up electrons is one of its most important and basic characteristics because that defines the atom's chemistry and capabilities," said Chemistry Professor Dennis L. Lichtenberger. "Until now, we've been limited by the range of what atoms can do and what we can do with molecules." The new molecules are two metal atoms bound tightly together by four pairs of electrons, a very unusual class of molecules because they are stable yet 10 percent more efficient at donating electrons than cesium. The researchers made the new molecules using chromium, molybdenum or tungsten as metals. The new molecules have potential uses in materials science, optics, medicine, and other fields.

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NEW THEORY ON CHONDRULES

Researchers at the universities of Arizona and Hawaii say shock waves through icy parts of the solar nebula could be the mechanism that enriched meteorites with water — water some scientists believe provided an otherwise dry Earth with oceans. The origin of chondrules — millimeter-sized blobs of once-melted minerals found within chondritic meteorites — has been a mystery. Some meteorites contain chondrules rimmed by fine silicate dust particles that reacted with water. The new research suggests chondrule-forming shock waves in icy regions of the nebula could have produced conditions that allowed rapid mineral hydration. A scientific model of shows during a shock wave ice particles vaporize, producing high water vapor pressure. During the period of increased water pressure, the researches said, the hydration reaction occurs much faster than previously predicted. Gas heats and slows the chondrules, so they melt and begin to cool. The water vapor reacts with the dust to form hydrated silicates, which become the chondrules' rims.

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NEW FORECAST TOOL PINPOINTS ICY ROADS

The National Center for Atmospheric Research and the Federal Highway Administration say a new Web-based system to forecast weather and road conditions could save lives and reduce costs. Highway officials and road crews in Des Moines and Ames, Iowa, will test the Maintenance Decision Support System from February to April. NCAR scientist William Mahoney said what's needed are "forecasts that are more specific, more timely, and tailored for decision makers who are not meteorologists." There isn't a current standard for linking weather outlooks to road conditions. The MDSS uses several computer models to project hour-by-hour weather and road conditions up to two days in advance, with an update every three hours. The system will allow users to see predicted weather and road conditions, monitor the potential for deteriorating road conditions, predict how upcoming weather will affect specific road segments — even bridges — and devise a plan for road treatment.

(EDITORS: For more information on FOSSIL, contact Walter Manger, (479)575-3370 or e-mail [email protected] For MOLECULES, Dennis L. Lichtenberger (520) 621-4749 or [email protected], for CHONDRULES, Fred J. Ciesla, (520) 621-1611 or [email protected], and for WEATHER, Anatta, (303) 497-8604 or [email protected])





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