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Fall 2010

Too much of a good thing

Science has been predicting and measuring our warming planet for more than a century now. But it was only in the last two decades that most Americans came to believe the earth’s temperature was indeed rising and that the main culprit is the growing amount of carbon dioxide in our atmosphere.

Now scientists are giving a lot of thought to another culprit: nitrogen. Like carbon dioxide, it’s seemingly benign—colorless, odorless, tasteless, and a foundation of life on our planet. Left alone, it tightly binds to itself in inert, two-atom molecules, or N2. It’s ridiculously commonplace, making up four-fifths of our atmosphere. It’s also a modern … » More …

Spring 2009

Great promise in a nitrogen conundrum

Mike Kahn and Svetlana Yurgel, molecular biologists in Washington State University’s Institute of Biological Chemistry, have a challenge on their hands that involves one of the most abundant, but also difficult to obtain, substances on earth.

Nearly 80 percent of the atmosphere is nitrogen, and even that is only 7 percent of the total nitrogen on earth. However, most of it is locked up in rock. Only a tiny fraction of 1 percent of the total nitrogen is accessible to plants in the soil and in a form that can be used by living things.

And living things need nitrogen in a big way. Nitrogen … » More …