MIT Professor Dan Nocera Uses Chemistry to Discover Alternate Sources of Energy

Daniel Nocera, a renowned chemist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology whose passion for global energy brought him to Andover, spoke to students about energy conservation this Wednesday. Nocera discussed his project on solar energy and photosynthesis. Nocera said, “At first I was hesitant to go into politics, but calculation science drives the core of politics. The two are inseparable if the information you are investigating is substantial enough.” According to Nocera, switching off lights may be an adequate source of energy conservation on a day-to-day basis, but will not have a marked contribution to any long-term energy reduction efforts. As an alternative more suited to long-term energy reduction efforts, Nocera invented a chemical compound that can easily make energy accessible to low-income demographics. Nocera said, “We invented this compound, the only one of its kind besides platinum, that can split oxygen and hydrogen atoms easily in diseased water, seawater, and even human waste water.” “If we use this compound, we can split and then recombine dihydrogen oxide to get pure drinking water that we can distribute among poor people at very little cost,” he continued. This water would also be able to store energy by taking in sunlight and using it to split the atoms, creating easily manufactured energy through artificial photosynthesis. During his presentation, Nocera showed a picture of him taken for National Geographic magazine, where he is standing behind an enormous residence in California, holding the amount of water it would take to fuel the entire house for one day. In his hands were two bottles that amounted to over two gallons of water. Nocera noted that the biggest challenge in students’ futures will be energy – not only in a scientific and technological setting—but also in the field of economics and sociology. “It’s a daunting idea, but there is a solution to energy consumption. We need to use carbon neutral energy which is going to take a lot of creative effort, but we will be able to deliver it to people cheaply and can implement it on a larger scale,” he said. Nocera said, “A lot of students spend their time and efforts trying to get rich, but what they need to figure out is what they really care about in life, and if they are good at it, people will eventually pay them for it.” “I work with a lot of billionaires and all of them had a passion early on in life and got paid later for that enthusiastic interest,” he added. Nocera continued, “You have to like what you do and be totally passionate no matter what field you go into.” Speaking from personal experience, Nocera said, “What drives me is my undying interest for energy. The fact that I can solve the world energy problem keeps me totally focused. I wake up and go to bed thinking about how I can get energy to the poor.” Nocera said, “A few weeks ago, I told President Obama that I was too busy to meet with him – but here I am at Andover! I came here because Kelvin Jackson ’10 has tried to get me to come to campus for a while, and since I am friends with his father, I decided to give a presentation to Andover students before Jackson graduated.” Peter Bang ’11, Co-Head of the Andover Science and Technology Club, said, “I hoped that students learned about new developments of energy and chemistry; it was a pleasure to have Nocera come to campus.”