Alcoholic astrochemistry

Researchers at the University in Leeds, UK, have found a quantum mechanical explanation for a seemingly impossible chemical reaction that leads to the formation of methoxy radicals from one of the most abundant chemicals in interstellar space, methanol. Dwayne Heard and his team have shown that chilling the reaction of methanol with hydroxyl radicals to just 60 Kelvin or thereabouts prevents side reactions and facilitates formation, through a quantum tunneling effect, an intermediate on the way to methanol. Chemical reactions get slower as temperatures decrease, as there is less energy to get over the ‘reaction barrier’. But quantum mechanics tells us that it is possible to cheat and dig through this barrier instead of going over it, Heard says.