Science and Engineering

Brandeis University

Irving R. Epstein
Waltham, MA
December 2013

The goal of this project is to study the self-organization of molecular catalysts under extreme conditions of temperature and acidity as a link between paleobiology and chemistry.  Specifically, the team will (i) develop catalysts that are able to catalyze their own organization or formation; (ii) study the self-organized structures of these catalysts under extreme conditions; and (iii) analyze the evolutionary products associated with these processes.  In these studies, which belong to an unexplored field of chemistry, molecular catalysts will act as the building blocks of abiotic self-organization, and the structures formed by self-organization will determine the reaction pathways and products.  By elucidating how the emergent properties of self organization can enable simple molecules to evolve toward greater structural and organizational complexity without the involvement of sophisticated biological machinery (e.g., enzymes), this work will contribute insights into the fundamental processes that may have first generated life prior to the emergence of biomacromolecules (e.g., nucleic acids or proteins).  The success of this work will not only provide an alternative paradigm for understanding the origin of life but may also lead to new chemistries and/or materials suitable for use under extreme conditions.

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