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New cosmic magnetic field structures discovered in galaxy NGC 4217

The spiral galaxy NGC 4217 has a huge magnetic field that is shown here as green lines. The data for this visualisation were recorded with the radio telescope Karl G. Jansky Very Large Array (VLA) of the National Science Foundation. The image of the galaxy shown from the side is taken from data from the Sloan Digital Sky Survey and Kitt Peak National Observatory.

Spiral galaxies such as our Milky Way can have sprawling magnetic fields. There are various theories about their formation, but so far the process is not well understood. An international research team has now analysed the magnetic field of the Milky Way-like galaxy NGC 4217 in detail on the basis of radio astronomical observations and has discovered as yet unknown magnetic field structures. The data suggest that star formation and star explosions, so-called supernovae, are responsible for the visible structures.

The team led by Dr. Yelena Stein from Ruhr-Universität Bochum, the Centre de Données astronomiques de Strasbourg and the Max Planck Institute for Radio Astronomy in Bonn together with US-American and Canadian colleagues, published their report in the journal Astronomy and Astrophysics, released online on 21 July 2020.

The analysed data had been compiled in the project “Continuum Halos in Nearby Galaxies”, where radio waves were utilised to measure 35 galaxies. “Galaxy NGC 4217 is of particular interest to us,” explains Yelena Stein, who began the study at the Chair of Astronomy at Ruhr-Universität Bochum under Professor Ralf-Jürgen Dettmar and who currently works at the Centre de Données astronomiques de Strasbourg. NGC 4217 is similar to the Milky Way and is only about 67 million light years away, which means relatively close to it, in the Ursa Major constellation. The researchers therefore hope to successfully transfer some of their findings to our home galaxy.

Magnetic fields and origins of star formation
When evaluating the data from NGC 4217, the researchers found several remarkable structures. The galaxy has an X-shaped magnetic field structure, which has also been observed in other galaxies, extending far outwards from the galaxy disk, namely over 20,000 light years.

In addition to the X-shape, the team found a helix structure and two large bubble structures, also called superbubbles. The latter originate from places where many massive stars explode as supernovae, but also where stars are formed that emit stellar winds in the process. Researchers therefore suspect a connection between these phenomena.

“It is fascinating that we discover unexpected phenomena in every galaxy whenever we use radio polarisation measurements,” points out Dr. Rainer Beck from the MPI for Radio Astronomy in Bonn, one of the authors of the study. “Here in NGC 4217, it is huge magnetic gas bubbles and a helix magnetic field that spirals upwards into the galaxy’s halo.”

The analysis moreover revealed large loop structures in the magnetic fields along the entire galaxy. “This has never been observed before,” explains Yelena Stein. “We suspect that the structures are caused by star formation, because at these points matter is ejected outward.”

Image shows magnetic field structures
For their analysis, the researchers combined different methods that enabled them to visualise the ordered and chaotic magnetic fields of the galaxy both along the line of sight and perpendicular to it. The result was a comprehensive image of the structures.

To optimise the results, Yelena Stein combined the data evaluated by means of radio astronomy with an image of NGC 4217 that was taken in the visible light range. The image is available for download on the website public.nrao.edu. “Visualising the data was important to me,” stresses Stein. “Because when you think about galaxies, magnetic fields is not the first thing that comes to mind, although they can be gigantic and display unique structures. The image is supposed to shift the magnetic fields more into focus.”

adapted from Julia Weiler, RUB, translated by Donata Zuber
Successful collaboration with INP Greifswald

Research data management as central aspect within the collaborative research centres

Research data is a central output of science. They expand the scientific knowledge and are the basis for future research projects. The documentation of research data should follow subject-specific standards. The long-term archiving of research data is important for the quality assurance of any scientific work, but is also a fundamental prerequisite to allow the reusability of research results.

Researcher from the INP Greifswald enrolled a BMBF funded project with the title Quality assurance and networking of research data in plasma technology - QPTDat. This project aims to develop and test processes and methods for a quality assured and interdisciplinary reuse of research data from plasma technology.

QPTDat cooperation

A collaboration between INP and the CRC 1316 started in 2018 and now the Research Department Plasmas with Complex Interactions, and also the SFB-TR 87 join the activities on research data management. A workshop organized by INP Greifswald in January 2020 was the starting point for further active implementations in the field of research data management in the plasma community in the CRCs as well as in the Research Department.

First measures at EP2

As a first measure, an initiative at the research group EP2 at RUB results in an improved data storage on the local server of the institute. The storage volume has a regular backup and granting access to the complete group or to individual persons is possible. Beside measurement data, all further analysis steps are documented including meta data from all process steps. The members of the research group used a file name scheme, so that files can be found easily by other researchers.

Research data repository

Finally, published research data can be stored and published for the open public on the repository at

Scheme of publish process of data within the repository.

The idea of such a repository is the full documentation of measurement conditions (measurement data in a readable file format including meta data). First research groups from the CRCs have access to this repository and upload research data of published papers.

The concept of the repository is based on a multi-level system for publishing records. Users can put data online for review, which are then published by group moderators. The standards for publishing records must be defined by the group. In addition, meta data standards are currently being developed within the CRCs and together with INP Greifswald, so that data entry will be clearer and more uniform in future.

NFDI4Phys

Recently, the Research Department Plasmas with Complex Interactions has started to join the collaboration of different scientific institutions within the so-called
NFDI4Phys consortium. It aims to create structures and tools to simplify and unify the exchange of (mainly) numerical factual data in all areas of physics, with related disciplines and with the industry. The consortium is applying to the DFG for funding within the National Research Data Infrastructure (NFDI) project.

Within the framework of the NFDI4Phys consortium, the CRCs developing meta data standards for research questions in plasma science. Further goals are to contribute to the definition of basic and interdisciplinary standards and to develop methods to make research data from different sources generally accessible and interpretable.

Plasma biology

Plasma-driven biocatalysis 

©RUB, Marquard

A research team from Bochum has developed a new method to drive catalytically active enzymes.

Compared with traditional chemical methods, enzyme catalysis has numerous advantages. But it also has weaknesses. Some enzymes are not very stable. Enzymes that convert hydrogen peroxide are even inactivated by high concentrations of the substrate. A research team at Ruhr-Universität Bochum (RUB), together with international partners, has developed a process in which the starting material, i.e. hydrogen peroxide, is fed to the biocatalysts in a controlled manner using plasma. The enzymes themselves are protected from harmful components of the plasma by a buffer layer. Using two model enzymes, the team showed that the process works, as reported in the journal “ChemSusChem” from 5 February 2020.

Milder conditions, less energy consumption and waste

In biocatalysis, chemicals are produced by cells or their components, in particular by enzymes. Biocatalysis has many advantages over traditional chemical processes: the reaction conditions are usually much milder, energy consumption is lower and less toxic waste is produced. The high specificity of enzymes also means that fewer side reactions occur. Moreover, some fine chemicals can only be synthesised by biocatalysis.

The weak spot of enzyme biocatalysis is the low stability of some enzymes. “Since the enzyme often has to be replaced in such cases – which is expensive – it is extremely important to increase the stability under production conditions,” explains lead author Abdulkadir Yayci from the Chair of Applied Microbiology headed by Professor Julia Bandow.

Hydrogen peroxide: necessary, but harmful

The research team has been studying two similar classes of enzymes: peroxidases and peroxygenases. Both use hydrogen peroxide as a starting material for oxidations. The crucial problem is that hydrogen peroxide is absolutely necessary for activity, but in higher concentrations it leads to a loss of activity of the enzymes. As far as these enzyme classes are concerned, it is therefore vital to supply hydrogen peroxide in precise doses.

To this end, the researchers investigated plasmas as a source of hydrogen peroxide. Plasma describes the fourth state of matter that is created when energy is added to a gas. If liquids are treated with plasmas, a large number of reactive oxygen and nitrogen species are formed, some of which then react to form long-lived hydrogen peroxide, which can be used for biocatalysis.

Biocatalytic reactions with plasma-generated hydrogen peroxide are possible

In an experiment in which horseradish peroxidase served as one of the model enzymes, the team showed that this system works in principle. At the same time, the researchers identified the weak points of plasma treatment: “Plasma treatment also directly attacks and inactivates the enzymes, most likely through the highly reactive, short-lived species in the plasma-treated liquid,” outlines Abdulkadir Yayci. The research group improved the reaction conditions by binding the enzyme to an inert carrier material. This creates a buffer zone above the enzyme in which the highly reactive plasma species can react without harming the enzyme.

The researchers then tested their approach using a second enzyme, the unspecific peroxygenase from the fungus Agrocybe aegerita. This peroxygenase has the ability to oxidise a large number of substrates in a highly selective way. “We successfully demonstrated that this specificity is maintained even under plasma treatment and that highly selective biocatalytic reactions are possible using plasma,” concludes Julia Bandow.

written by Marike Drießen, RUB

Press release

DFG funded project

PLASNOW (Plasma generated Nitric Oxide in Wound healing)

The DFG granted research project PLASNOW (Plasma generated Nitric Oxide in Wound healing) is an interdisciplinary collaboration within the research field of plasma medicine. The project was approved in November 2019 for 36 months. It will start with the start it will only start with the start of contract of the PhD student which is still in process at the moment.

Two groups from electrical engineering (AEPT, Prof. Dr. P. Awakowicz) and plasma physics (Experimental physics II, Dr. V. Schulz-von der Gathen) are involved. It is a successor and continuation of projects that were beforehand bundled in the cooperation “Plasma2Cell“. In this cooperation, other groups participate e.g. from chemistry, medicine, and biology at the Ruhr-University, the Heinrich-Heine-University in Düsseldorf and the DLR in Cologne. 

PLASMA RESEARCH

Lightning bolt underwater 

© RUB, Kramer

A plasma tears through the water within a few nanoseconds. It may possibly regenerate catalytic surfaces at the push of a button.

Electrochemical cells help recycle CO2. However, the catalytic surfaces get worn down in the process. Researchers at the Collaborative Research Centre 1316 “Transient atmospheric plasmas: from plasmas to liquids to solids” at Ruhr-Universität Bochum (RUB) are exploring how they might be regenerated at the push of a button using extreme plasmas in water. In a first, they deployed optical spectroscopy and modelling to analyse such underwater plasmas in detail, which exist only for a few nanoseconds, and to theoretically describe the conditions during plasma ignition. They published their report in the journal Plasma Sources Science and Technology on 4 June 2019.

A plasma tears through the water within a few nanoseconds. Following plasma ignition, there is a high negative pressure difference at the tip of the electrode, which results in ruptures forming in the liquid. Plasma then spreads across those ruptures.

Video: Experimentalphysik II

Plasmas are ionised gases: they are formed when a gas is energised that then contains free electrons. In nature, plasmas occur inside stars or take the shape of polar lights on Earth. In engineering, plasmas are utilised for example to generate light in fluorescent lamps, or to manufacture new materials in the field of microelectronics. “Typically, plasmas are generated in the gas phase, for example in the air or in noble gases,” explains Katharina Grosse from the Institute for Experimental Physics II at RUB.

Ruptures in the water

In the current study, the researchers have generated plasmas directly in a liquid. To this end, they applied a high voltage to a submerged hairline electrode for the range of several billionth seconds. Following plasma ignition, there is a high negative pressure difference at the tip of the electrode, which results in ruptures forming in the liquid. Plasma then spreads across those ruptures. “Plasma can be compared with a lightning bolt – only in this case it happens underwater,” says Katharina Grosse.

Hotter than the sun

Using fast optical spectroscopy in combination with a fluid dynamics model, the research team identified the variations of power, pressure, and temperature in these plasmas. “In the process, we observed that the consumption inside these plasmas briefly amounts to up to 100 kilowatt. This corresponds with the connected load of several single-family homes,” points out Professor Achim von Keudell from the Institute for Experimental Physics II. In addition, pressures exceeding several thousand bars are generated – corresponding with or even exceeding the pressure at the deepest part of the Pacific Ocean. Finally, there are short bursts of temperatures of several thousand degrees, which roughly equal and even surpass the surface temperature of the sun.

Water is broken down into its components

Such extreme conditions last only for a very short time. “Studies to date had primarily focused on underwater plasmas in the microsecond range,” explains Katharina Grosse. “In that space of time, water molecules have the chance to compensate for the pressure of the plasma.” The extreme plasmas that have been the subject of the current study feature much faster processes. The water can’t compensate for the pressure and the molecules are broken down into their components. “The oxygen that is thus released plays a vital role for catalytic surfaces in electrochemical cells,” explains Katharina Grosse.  “By re-oxidating such surfaces, it helps them regenerate and take up their full catalytic activity again. Moreover, reagents dissolved in water can also be activated, thus facilitating catalysis processes.”

By Meike Drießen, Translated by Donata Zuber