Astronomy Colloquium — Uwe Bergmann

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4421 Sterling Hall
@ 3:30 pm - 4:30 pm

Speaker: Uwe Bergmann

Title: Water under X-ray Vision – A Molecular Look at Life’s Mysterious Elixir

Abstract: Every life form on earth requires liquid water to function and when we look for life in space, we often look for water signatures. Yet, we still don’t know precisely how the water molecules are arranged in the liquid. We also don’t know how exactly plants and algae split the water molecules to form molecular oxygen during photosynthesis. This over three-billion-year-old process has created essentially all the oxygen in our atmosphere and therefore enabled the evolution of all lifeforms relying on respiration. Understanding this mechanism can also help us to create new fuels based on sunlight.

Powerful new synchrotron X-ray sources have enabled detailed atomic level investigation of the structure of water and the photosynthetic water splitting. We will first describe these amazing X-ray sources and the various techniques that have been used to carry out these studies. We will then review our current understanding and the most recent progress of solving these two compelling mysteries, which have critically shaped the existence of life on earth.

Field: Liquid water structure, astrobiology

Institution: UW-Madison

Tea & cookies start at 3:15 PM. Zoom option available here.