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Automatic TRANSCRIPT

We're talking about iridium as show. What does this element tell us about dinosaurs? and how they went extinct. We're going to go back. Tens of millions of years ago to start. Yeah well we start and say like nineteen eighty. That's what I said Richard. I said one thousand nine hundred nineteen eighty okay. Well that's actually. When an academic paper gets published by a group led by a father and son team from the a University of California at Berkeley Louis Alvarez the father of physicist and by the way Nobel Prize winner and his son Walter Alvarez? WHO's a geologist and they? We're interested in a specific period of time. In Earth's history it was a transition between two geologic periods the Cretaceous period and the Paleocene good ones too good period. Yeah so dinosaurs still roamed the earth during the Cretaceous period. But after that you don't find any of these dino bones except in our current dinosaurs birds. You're you know what I mean. I I do know what you mean. Yeah thinking of dinosaurs. Birds Birds Dinosaurs. Same thing it's sad. It's true so at any rate but the Alvarez's weren't actually trying to answer that big. Why did the dinosaurs go extinct? Mystery that point Walter and Louis Alvarez. We're trying to answer. Just one part of that riddle which is how quickly that transition between the two periods took place so walter trump off to Italy where there are rock outcrops that were laid down his sediment back at the time of that transition. Okay seems like a good idea. Why look at those rocks knocks well to get the back story? I talked to another Berkeley scientists. My name is Paul Renae. And I'm the director of the Berkeley Ju- Chronology Center any said the secret to figuring Out How fast. That transition happened involved measuring dust from outer space. That's constantly raining down on earth. Tiny amounts Louis Alvarez Walter's father her biggest physicist thought. Well you know we can determine that we can. We can make some reasonable assumptions about how much dust is coming in from from extraterrestrial sources. Okay extraterrestrial we're talking stuff from outside Earth or the atmosphere in Richard. Can I just say the fact that somebody thought thought about measuring cosmic dust to figure out the passage of time sixty million years ago is objectively awesome. It is and when you think about the dust coming from asteroids colliding with each other. It's even cooler and they were looking for particular stuff and In particular if we look at an element. That's rare on on earth but common in meteors in an element. That's rare on earth but common in asteroids Guess what we're talking about Matty I'm going to take out style and I'm GonNa say radium. Guess Excellent guests. Thank you are we. But what's the role of the dust here right well. Louis was operating unreasonable unreasonable assumption. which is that? This dust from meteors rains down on the earth. More or less constant rate. It's dust of course enriched with iridium. So I figured if they could measure is your how much iridium had built up in. This transitional layer. They would be able to tell. How long taken to accumulate? So I'm thinking sort of figuring out how much snow fell over a period of the time. If you know the rate at falls and how much is on the ground except this is tens of millions of years ago Roger Dodger tens of millions of years ago and the iridium doesn't Milton the sunlight so it sticks sticks around you can still see at sixty five or sixty six years later so so it didn't rate when they ran those calculations with the Alvarez's found was stunning. The results were so so extreme. That just just a the passage of a long time would not really explain this. It was many times greater than the amount amount of radium in this layer than expected just from this gradual accumulation so the conclusion they drew was that there had been some huge pulse of extraterrestrial Oriole's Joe Matter and the obvious conclusion that they quickly came to was that it was a large impact a large impact. We're talking to you asteroid did we are an asteroid They think the asteroid smashes into the earth destroying so much of life on earth and throwing up an enormous muscle mass of dust into the atmosphere. The dust itself caused mass extinctions but it also had iridium in it and it spread around the Earth so they realized this collision is a big one and and the conditions that resulted you know reasonably enough they thought they theorized killed off. These won't bring dinosaurs. You know what you're nobody ever thinks about that other life. I feel like it's always dinosaurs. Dinosaurs dinosaurs. I know you don't get little plastic models of marine for him. And if we're talking to you as I mentioned in this paper was published back in one thousand nine hundred eighty and back then. A catastrophic end seemed to mini scientists pretty far fetched because evolution takes place over millions of years so so a lot of scientists were expecting to see gradual changes. and and Paul Rennie says when the Alvarez has proposed this meteor theory created quite a stir in the community it did. Yeah I mean. It was originally not widely accepted but acceptance sort of came in waves and the biggest confirmation team win in the early nineties. There was the discovery of the crater on the northern coast of the Yucatan Peninsula. A study published in. Today's issue of Science magazine appears to add weight to a theory that a giant media or struck the earth. Sixty five million years ago and what is now Mexico many scientists. This is the Intro to my story that aired in NPR back in Nineteen ninety-two. Some scientists. See this as evidence that helps prove their theory that the dinosaurs were wiped out by a giant asteroid or comet but as NPR NPR science correspondent Richard Harris reports the theories baby Richard Harris Science reporter even covering this story for a bit. I have indeed actually packs into the early nineteen eighties but that no dinosaur drug please and a really big asteroid could scatter iridium dust. Globally the question was. Where's the crater that a huge asteroid like that would make take a look and listen to all that? Join Your Voice you know I know well what what can be more fun than dead dinosaurs. Really Okay So. This study found the point of impact for the giant asteroid. Yes it was a crater one hundred ten miles across called Jiffy Lube and it was created by this asteroid that had a tremendous amount of explosive power. As you can. Well imagine sure so. When these geologist tested the age of the materials from the crater it turned out to date very closely to the mass extinction by the way? Dating methods. have been recalibrated calibrated since that paper. So scientists now say that catastrophe happened. Sixty six million years ago. Not Sixty five million. What's a million years among friends? Yeah yeah yeah absolutely so Joe. Yeah but the point is of course the impact and the dinosaurs demise lineup perfectly and for that nineteen ninety-two story. I talked to Carl Swisher at the Institute of Human Origins which at the time was in Berkeley Berkeley Berkeley Berkeley no even much larger when we went across the street to the UC. Berkeley and told Walter Alvarez the ages we're getting I think he was quite excited because he spent What the last Ten fifteen years trying to find a crater of each throughout the World Team Alvarez for the win absolutely yes for the most part. There's a lot of evidence but there will always be some skeptics in the scientific community. And you know it's also important maybe to mention that at the same time about the same time there was a whole lot of volcanic activity we also on the earth. So there's always people thinking one two punch. Maybe you're saying definitely came. But was it the absolute Khuda Gra for all these dinosaurs. That's still that's still debated. Yeah astroid touch volcanoes low bit of mix maybe so okay Richard Radium helped us figure out our dinosaur extinction mystery. You mentioned earlier that it could also help us potentially prevent the next global catastrophe. We're not talking another asteroid here. No we have Bruce Willis For Asteroids if you remember the action movie Armageddon No no no actually. We're talking about climate change climate change. How does a radium help? Well what we really need to do to. Combat climate change is to have clean fuel. That's cheaper than fossil fuels. If we could get such a thing in other words would quickly switch to the cheaper fuel and we'd stop dumping all that carbon dioxide said in the atmosphere. I don't know about quickly but sure. That's the dream. Richard Yeah Fair enough. So what's the link between clean fuels radium. Well we really liked to capture energy. She from sunlight and turn that into liquid fuels now. Plants figured this out long before the dinosaurs were even around. Tho- sent this says that's right and the first step in this process is to split a water molecule. And the problem is this is not so easy to do in the lab what chemist need is a catalyst so the chemicals that that speed up chemical reactions out there getting stuff done. You got it and I'm guessing you can see where I'm going with this. A radium is a good catalyst. It is a great catalyst for this purpose and imagine turning sunlight into hydrogen fuel or liquid fuel. You could put into an airplane. Of course there's one eighty problem with the scenario. Iridium you will recall. Aw is one of the rarest elements on Earth's crust because of his scarcity's one of the most expensive metals as well. So he does complicate our Laura Research so is the Mother Nature through that us. That's Guanghui Wing. He's a chemistry professor at Boston College. And he's trying to develop an iridium catalyst to make fuel out of sunlight and he's trying to get around this issue of how little of it. We have our ideas that we wanted to utilize this catheters to his maximum. That is we wanted Khimik every atom conce and since iridium is so rare he wants to make sure every single atom in a catalyst is actually at work speeding up reactions even so oh it's probably a stretch to think about building industry around iridium right so he and his colleagues are also hoping that once they understand how iridium does this magic they can find something else that will work as a catalyst as well or nearly as well and ideally something. That's abundant on the earth. So iridium or something like it could potentially help save the day. That's