It’s (Almost) Alive !!!1!1!

All I have to say is: No, no its not…

Three billion years after inanimate chemistry first became animate life, a newly synthesized laboratory compound is behaving in uncannily lifelike ways.

The particles aren’t truly alive — but they’re not far off, either. Exposed to light and fed by chemicals, they form crystals that move, break apart and form again.

This is a perfect example of sensationalist and wildly inaccurate reporting done about science in the general media. There is nothing life like here, except that the particles organize and reorganize, a simple process based in molecular and macro-scale forces that the researches have externally manipulated to form a system that cycles through phases of order and disorder. Certainly rather cool, nothing to do with life.

Each particle is made from a microscopic cube of hematite, a compound consisting of iron and oxygen, sheathed in a spherical polymer coat. One corner is left exposed.

Under certain wavelengths of blue light, hematite conducts electricity. When the particles are placed in a hydrogen peroxide bath under blue light, chemical reactions catalyze around the exposed tips.

‘There is a blurry frontier between active and alive.’

As the hydrogen peroxide breaks down, concentration gradients form. The particles travel down these, aggregating into crystals that also follow the gradients.

Random forces pull the crystals apart, but eventually they merge again. The process repeats again and again, stopping only when the lights go out.

This is basically like saying ‘Oh look, the magnets pulled themselves together!!! It’s almost alive!’ This kind of breathless hysterical reporting is part of the reason why non-science people are so miserably uninformed about science.

See also The Modern Philosopher’s Stone (which is about the same kind of popular reporting, but about the so called ‘upcoming hydrogen economy’)


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