Article

Journal of Molecular Evolution

, Volume 2, Issue 2, pp 149-166

First online:

Photocatalytic synthesis of organic compounds from CO and water: Involvement of surfaces in the formation and stabilization of products

  • Jerry S. HubbardAffiliated withBioscience and Planetology Section, Jet Propulsion Laboratory, California Institute of TechnologyBiology Division, California Institute of Technology
  • , James P. HardyAffiliated withBioscience and Planetology Section, Jet Propulsion Laboratory, California Institute of Technology
  • , Gerald E. VoecksAffiliated withBioscience and Planetology Section, Jet Propulsion Laboratory, California Institute of Technology
  • , Ellis E. GolubAffiliated withBiology Division, California Institute of Technology

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Summary

14C-Formic acid and other14C-organic compounds are formed on surface materials when mixtures of14CO,12CO2 or N2 and water vapor are irradiated with ultraviolet light (UV) ofλ > 250 nm. The rate of organic formation is roughly proportional to the quantity of substratum irradiated. The available evidence suggests that14CO adsorbed to or in contact with the substratum is excited by the long wavelength UV and reacts with adsorbed H2O or surface hydroxyl groups yielding the organic products. Photodestruction of the14C-organics yields14CO2 and14CO. A steady state is attained when organic products reach a concentration such that the rate of photodestruction is equal to the rate of synthesis. The product accumulation is greater and the photodestruction is slower when N2 is used as diluent gas.

Differences in the rates of synthesis, rates of photodestruction and amounts of product accumulation are observed with different silica and alumina substrata. The substrata with large surface areas are most effective for synthesis while maximum photoprotection of organics is afforded by substrata containing high concentrations of surface hydroxyl groups.

The observation of the synthesis on a variety of substrata using realistic simulations of atmospheres and solar energies strengthens previous proposals that this process may occur on Mars and may have been important on the primitive Earth.

Key words

Abiogenesis Photocatalytic Surface Catalysis Ultraviolet Photosynthesis Chemical Evolution Mars