Electron Orbitals of Oxygen and Nitrogen

Ice Covered Lake and Electron Orbitals of Oxygen and Nitrogen
Ice floats because it is lighter than water, and that is because of electron orbits.

Last week (January 13-15), we talked about the electron structures of oxygen and nitrogen and the importance of those elements for life. One additional design feature is the electron orbitals of oxygen and nitrogen, which is the shape of the electron paths around the nucleus.

Electrons do not revolve around the nucleus in simple circles but rather in geometric paths. For example, the oxygen atom has two electrons that orbit the nucleus in a circular pattern. A little further out and at a higher energy level, two more electrons move in a circular path. Oxygen has eight electrons, and the four electrons in the last energy shell, the valence shell, have a different orbital.

In the third energy level, the orbitals of the four electrons have figure-eight paths at right angles to each other. This figure-eight pattern has two electrons isolated from the other two and each at right angles to the other. That arrangement enables the oxygen atom to form an essential polar molecule.

When an oxygen atom combines with two hydrogen atoms by covalent bonding, they form a molecule of water, H2O. The water molecule has the two hydrogen atoms positioned at one end, making it positive, while the other end of the water molecule is negative. This polar structure gives water its unique properties. For example, water expands as it freezes, causing ice to be lighter than the liquid form. Because of that, ice floats on the surface of a lake instead of sinking to the bottom and freezing the entire lake, killing all marine life. The polar nature of water also allows it to dissolve minerals.

With its seven electrons, nitrogen has five valence electrons moving at right angles to each other, allowing it to form critical organic compounds. For example, nitrogen bonds covalently with three hydrogen atoms to form ammonia which has properties very different from water. Nitrogen’s ability to form three bonds makes possible the structure of the DNA in our cells.

This very simplified description of the atomic design of chemistry gives a small glimpse of the wisdom of design God put into the electron orbitals of oxygen and nitrogen. The Master Chemist designed the structures of atoms to allow life to exist in an incredible number of forms and thrive in a wide range of environments.

— John N. Clayton © 2022

Oxygen and Nitrogen Levels in the Atmosphere

Oxygen and Nitrogen Levels in the Atmosphere

Oxygen and nitrogen are two of a handful of elemental superstars of life. Without them, life would not be possible. In some ways, these two elements are very similar, but they are also very different.

Oxygen and nitrogen atoms differ in only one proton and one electron. In chemical reactions, the important subatomic particle is the electron, and oxygen has eight while nitrogen has seven. In the last two days, we talked about the difference that one electron makes. Oxygen and nitrogen make up about 99% of our atmosphere, with nitrogen composing nearly three-quarters of our air. So why is nitrogen’s percentage so high compared to oxygen?

As we said previously, the triple bond of a nitrogen molecule requires more than twice as much energy to break as the double bond of an oxygen molecule. The oxygen bond can be broken to allow combustion oxidation and energize our bodies. On the other hand, the nitrogen bond is not easy to break, but plants require nitrogen for photosynthesis and growth. What is the solution?

Lightning breaks the nitrogen bond allowing rain to wash nitrogen to the ground. Plants such as beans, peas, and alfalfa, which we call legumes, have microorganisms on their roots that extract nitrogen from the air. That enriches the soil with nitrogen while providing for the legumes. More than a century ago, scientists found a way to extract nitrogen from the air to produce ammonia. That process enabled fertilizer production, which today allows farmers to produce enough food for the world’s population.

It is not easy to break the nitrogen bond so it can combine with other elements, but with 78% of the atmosphere being nitrogen, there is no shortage. So why is our atmosphere mostly nitrogen? Since it is only about 21% oxygen, wouldn’t it be better to have more oxygen so we could breathe easier? The answer is that nitrogen stability is essential for our safety. Wildfires have been a significant problem in recent years. If the atmosphere consisted of a very high percentage of oxygen, fires would be more common and dangerous. If the atmosphere consisted of 100% oxygen, all it would take is one lightning strike to set the whole planet on fire.

Remarkably, we have the correct percentage of elements in our atmosphere. We have the right amount of oxygen to allow respiration to power our bodies and combustion to power our vehicles and industry and heat our homes. At the same time, we have the right amount of nitrogen to prevent uncontrolled combustion leading to the destruction of life. We have just a small amount of carbon dioxide, which plants need for photosynthesis. Plants use CO2 and generate oxygen to keep the gases in balance. The balance is amazingly precise as long as humans don’t generate enough carbon dioxide to mess it up.

During the dinosaur age, the oxygen level was higher, on the order of around one-third of the atmosphere. That allowed the enormous animals to prepare the Earth for humans. Now we have the precise balance to sustain human life and advanced society. The question is, did the features of oxygen and nitrogen and the balance between them happen by accident, or was it part of an intelligent plan? We think the best explanation is that an intelligent Planner of life created it.

— Roland Earnst © 2022

One-Electron Difference Between Oxygen and Nitrogen

One-Electron Difference Between Oxygen and Nitrogen

How does a one-electron difference between oxygen and nitrogen allow life to exist on our planet? Why does the correct mix between those two elements in our atmosphere make it possible for us to be here?

Yesterday, we talked about covalent bonding in oxygen and nitrogen. We said that an oxygen atom needs to share two electrons with another oxygen atom to make a stable oxygen molecule. However, nitrogen needs to share three electrons with another nitrogen atom to complete the valence shell and create stability. So how can a single electron difference between oxygen and nitrogen be a big deal?

For oxygen or nitrogen to combine with other elements to form new compounds essential for life, the covalent bond between them must be broken. It takes about double the energy to break the triple bond between two nitrogen atoms as to break the double bond between two oxygen atoms. That means oxygen can be released to form other compounds much more easily.

What does it take to break the oxygen bond and combine it with another element?
Apply some heat to combustible material, and you will find out. You will get fire, which is a chemical reaction involving rapid oxidation of the burning material. Much slower oxidation occurs when oxygen in your blood combines with nutrients in your body, giving you energy and generating body heat. Another slow form of oxidation is when iron combines with oxygen to form iron oxide, or rust.

If it were not possible to release oxygen from its molecular bond with relative ease, we would not have combustion to heat our homes, run our vehicles, or energize our bodies. Life would not be possible. However, nitrogen bonds are much harder to break, and nitrogen is also essential for life. Tomorrow we will look at how the one-electron difference between oxygen and nitrogen enables life on planet Earth.

— Roland Earnst © 2022

The Atmosphere Is Fine-Tuned for Life

The Atmosphere Is Fine-Tuned for Life

Nitrogen and oxygen together make up about 99% of the air we breathe. The vast majority of our atmosphere is nitrogen. Oxygen is ten times as abundant as nitrogen in the universe, but it makes up only about 21 percent of our atmosphere. So, the less common element is the most abundant in our atmosphere. What does that mean to us? The bottom line is that the atmosphere is fine-tuned for life. Let’s examine that more carefully.

An atom of oxygen and an atom of nitrogen differ by only one proton and one electron. That may not seem like much, but it makes a world of difference. Both of those elements form diatomic molecules, meaning that two atoms bond together to make one molecule of oxygen or nitrogen.

Covalent bonding is the chemical bonding of atoms by equal sharing of electrons. That bond gives atoms stability in their outer, or valence, electron shells. Atomic stability requires eight valence electrons. The only elements with that number are the so-called “noble gases”–helium, neon, argon, krypton, and radon. For that reason, they are inert, refusing to combine with other elements. All other elements need electrons to complete the octet in their valence shells.

An oxygen atom has six electrons in its valence shell, so it needs to share two electrons to become stable. When an oxygen atom shares two electrons with another oxygen atom, they both become stable. Nitrogen, on the other hand, has only five valence electrons. Therefore, by forming a covalent bond with another nitrogen atom, sharing three electrons, both atoms complete their outer shell. In this way, our atmosphere is made up of stable diatomic oxygen and nitrogen molecules.

However, not all molecules are equally stable. That is where we see the atmosphere is fine-tuned for life. For example, oxygen molecules have a double bond sharing two electrons, but nitrogen atoms have a triple bond sharing three electrons for more stability. That difference may seem insignificant, but it is essential to make life possible. Come back tomorrow when we will explain what a difference it makes.

— Roland Earnst © 2022

Life Under the Antarctic Ice Shelf

Life Under the Antarctic Ice Shelf
Map of Antarctica showing the ice shelves

One of the amazing things about our planet is its ability to support life. We find a diversity of living things on land, in the air, and under the oceans. Scientists have even found a variety of life under the Antarctic Ice Shelf.

Gerhard Kuhn and Raphael Gromig of Germany’s Alfred Wegener Institute, a polar and marine research organization, drilled through the Antarctic ice shelf. After boring through 656 feet (200 m) of ice, they scooped up material from the seafloor another 328 feet (100 m) down. What they brought up surprised them. They turned the material over to David Barnes, a marine biologist with the British Antarctic Survey. He was so amazed that he said, “Is this a practical joke?”

Barnes was surprised that as he studied the sediment, he identified 77 different species of animal life in the material they extracted from a single drill hole. The species identified included bryozoans, which are stationary filter feeders, and tube-feeding worms. Barnes said, “This discovery of so much life living in these extreme conditions is a complete surprise…”

Filter-feeders feed on algae which require sunlight to grow. However, there is no sunlight to provide photosynthetic life under the Antarctic ice shelf. The explanation is that these creatures are feasting on microorganisms that the ocean currents sweep under the ice shelf. You could say the food is delivered to their doorstep.

Despite the cold and dark conditions, life survives in a location where fires, storms, or predators do not threaten it. The only thing that may threaten these creatures is the melting and breakup of the ice shelves. So, here in one of Earth’s least-known habitats, life survives. Like the scientists who discovered and studied these life forms, we are amazed. But, more than that, we thank God for wisely creating life with the ability to adapt and survive even in hostile environments.

— Roland Earnst © 2022

References: Current Biology and LiveScience.com

Edward O Wilson Was an Authority on Ants

Edward O. Wilson Was an Authority on Ants

You may recognize the name Edward O. Wilson whom evolutionists associate with sociobiology. However, the Harvard biologist who passed away in December at the age of 92 was actually more famous for his detailed study of ants. There are currently over 15,000 known species of ants, with probably thousands more, and Edward O Wilson was an authority on ants.

Wilson’s studies included ants that can walk under water to find dead insects or glide from one tree to another or join together to make a raft to carry their queen and eggs to safety away from a flooded nest. Wilson pointed out the complex social organization of an ant colony. He wrote that “Karl Marx was right, socialism works, it is just that he had the wrong species.”

Wilson summarized his work by saying, “Our sense of wonder grows exponentially: the greater the knowledge, the deeper the mystery and the more we seek knowledge to create new mystery.” Proverbs 6:6 gives a similar message: “Go to the ant, thou sluggard; consider her ways and be wise.” We have considered the ways of ants many times on this website and in our printed journal. You can find links to some of those articles below.

Edward O Wilson was an authority on ants, and although we disagree with his agnosticism and materialistic Darwinism, we applaud him for giving us information about the world of ants. His work reinforces the message of Romans 1:20 that “we can know there is a God through the things He has made.”

— John N. Clayton © 2022

Reference: Columnist Rich Lowry in the Herald Bulletin for December 23, 2021.

Here are links to some of our previous articles on ants:

Ants and survival rafts.

Ants with prism cooling.

Armor for leafcutter ants.

Ants and tool use.

Ants as farmers.

Ant leaf-cutting tool.

Ant doorways.

Ants in the Sahara Desert.

Ants working together.

A Giant Millipede and What It Teaches Us

A Giant Millipede and What It Teaches Us
A Modern “Giant” Millipede

Can you imagine a giant millipede almost nine feet long? Most of us have seen inch-long millipedes under a rock or in a rotting log. Like centipedes, millipedes get their name from their many legs. “Mille” means thousand, and “ped” means foot, so a millipede could have a thousand feet.

Some 10,000 species of millipedes live today, and they are related to lobsters, shrimp, and crayfish. Australian researchers recently announced finding a three-inch-long millipede with 1,306 legs, which stirred up great interest among biologists. But that is nothing compared to a new fossil discovery.

Now researchers from the University of Cambridge have found the fossil of a true giant millipede in England. This specimen is 8.6 feet long and would have weighed about 110 pounds. Named Arthropleura, this is the largest invertebrate ever found, replacing giant sea scorpions that previously held the record. This animal lived before the dinosaurs and was an omnivore eating plants, nuts, seeds, and other invertebrates.

The importance of a find like this giant millipede is that it tells us that large animals, insects, and plants existed in the past. In addition, it reminds us that the ecology of the early Earth, as it was being prepared for later life forms, was very different from what we see today. At that time, England was a tropical area where massive quantities of resources like coal, limestone, and various minerals were being produced. Therefore, the plant and animal life in that ecology had to be large.

The Bible does not describe all of the processes because even today
, we have a hard time comprehending how that ancient world functioned. Genesis 1:1 simply tells us that God created the Earth, not how or when or what processes He used to prepare the planet for humans. But because God used a process, we can locate resources far underground. If He had simply “zapped” the planet into existence, we would have no clue about where to look for oil or coal or various minerals.

Proverbs 8 talks about the wisdom that allowed the production of all we see and use today. When we hear about a find like this giant millipede, it underlines how carefully God planned for our existence. Today, our challenge is to take care of the planet by preserving what God has given us rather than wasting it.

— John N. Clayton © 2021

Reference: USA Today by Jordan Mendoza 12/28/21.

Oxygen Generators and More

Oxygen Generators and More

They are microscopic plants. You may never see them individually, but they exist by the millions on or near the surface of oceans, lakes, and rivers, even in polar regions. Scientists call them phytoplankton which comes from two Greek words that mean “plant drifter.” We call them oxygen generators.

You can see masses of green phytoplankton on the water surface because of the green chlorophyll they contain. Chlorophyll enables them to use sunlight and nutrients from the water to produce the nourishment they need to live. In the process of photosynthesis, they are oxygen generators. Of course, humans and all animals must have the oxygen to breathe, and phytoplankton play an essential role in our climate by controlling the balance between oxygen and carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.

In the ocean, tiny animals called krill eat phytoplankton. In turn, the krill provide the diet for many fish and even for huge baleen whales. Those whales stir up the ocean, bringing to the surface minerals which the phytoplankton need. As whales eat and grow, they take in large amounts of carbon. When they die, their bodies containing the carbon sink to the bottom of the ocean. This well-engineered system helps prevent the build-up of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.

Phytoplankton are incredibly diverse, with thousands of different species. The microscopic photo shows members of one class of phytoplankton known as diatoms. The carcasses of phytoplankton, algae, and other marine plants deposited on the sea beds long ago became the petroleum we use today.

Diatoms produce silicon shells, and when they die, those shells form deep deposits on the ocean floor. People mine those microscopic shells and use them for what we call diatomite or diatomaceous earth used in industry for fine polishing and for filtering liquids. In addition, gardeners sprinkle diatomaceous earth around their plants to protect them from insect pests. Scientists are also exploring uses for those microscopic shells in nanotechnology.

So, in addition to being oxygen generators, these tiny plants produce energy sources for humans and food for creatures of the ocean and freshwater lakes. Without them, our climate would be much different, and life would be difficult, if not impossible. Chance evolution doesn’t seem to be an adequate explanation for diverse phytoplankton. We see them as another example of design by the Master Designer of life.

— Roland Earnst © 2021

Pearl Beauty and Design

Pearl Beauty and Design

We have often reported on how design in nature has helped human “inventors” develop new products or improve old ones. It seems that lowly mollusks can teach humans some lessons from pearl beauty and design.

When a grain of sand or a tiny bit of debris enters the mollusk’s shell, such as an oyster or mussel, the creature goes into a defensive action to protect itself from the irritating particle. The oyster deposits a crystalline form of calcium carbonate known as aragonite. Limestone is primarily calcium carbonate, but it lacks the iridescent appearance of this crystallized form. The smooth layers of mineral and protein which the mollusk deposits on the foreign particle is called nacre (pronounced NAY-ker). The layers of nacre take on a beautiful, iridescent, and shiny appearance that gives pearls their beauty.

The question that has bothered scientists for more than a century is how the oyster can change a jagged or lopsided fragment of grit into a perfectly round and smooth pearl. However, pearl beauty and design remained a mystery until recently when a research team studied pearls from Akoya pearl oysters (Pinctada imbricata fucata) in Australia. First, they used a diamond wire saw to slice pearls in half. Then they polished the cut surfaces and used various electron microscopes to study them more carefully than anyone had done before.

The researchers refer to the layers of nacre as “tablets.” For example, one pearl they studied had 2,615 tablets deposited over 548 days, or 4 to 5 tablets per day. The pearl was only 2.5 mm in diameter, so the tablets were extremely thin. However, the mollusk modulates the thickness of the nacre layers according to “power-law decay across low to mid frequencies, colloquially called 1/f noise.” That means the mollusk uses some math to adjust the thickness of the layers to compensate for irregularities. Where one layer is thin, the next is thicker to self-correct, so irregularities heal themselves in the following few layers.

One of the researchers, Laura Otter, a biogeochemist at the Australian National University, said: “These humble creatures are making a super light and super tough material so much more easily and better than we do with all our technology.” Using calcium carbonate and protein, oysters make nacre 3,000 times tougher than the materials from which they make it. Another research team member, Robert Hovden, a materials scientist and engineer at the University of Michigan, said that understanding how mollusks make pearls could inspire “the next generation of super materials.” That might include materials for better solar panels or for use in spacecraft.

Once again, design in nature gives us some valuable insights. Even lowly mollusks can teach humans some lessons through pearl beauty and design, thanks to the Designer of nature.

— Roland Earnst © 2021

References: ScienceNews.org, and Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences

Turkeys Don’t Have Enough Dark Meat

Turkeys Don’t Have Enough Dark Meat
Wild Male Turkey

We get some interesting letters and emails. Even though some people may send them with an impure motive, we can always learn something from them. Recently, we received an email about turkeys that brings up an interesting point. Turkey meat is often on the menu for Thanksgiving and Christmas. This person was complaining because, at his house, turkeys don’t have enough dark meat to go around.

The difference between white and dark meat in turkeys and chickens is a lesson in how humans change what God created. If you have ever eaten a wild turkey, you know that it is all dark meat. This is because wild turkeys are very active, running and flying. Having the ability to do these two things means that wild turkeys require more oxygen-carrying blood vessels. With more blood vessels, the meat is darker.

Domestic and factory-raised turkeys don’t use their muscles as much, and with fewer blood vessels, the meat is whiter. The way a turkey is raised affects the nature of the meat. In our area of the country, turkey farms raise large numbers of birds that don’t fly and do very little running. Those are the turkeys you buy at the supermarket, and that will always be the case.

Hawaii has large numbers of chickens in the wild. They fly and run, and if people use them for food, they find very little white meat. In the area we visited in Hawaii, the local people would not eat those free-range chickens because they felt the dark meat was not as good.

I told my questioner that if turkeys don’t have enough dark meat for him, he should bring his shotgun to my house during turkey season. In that way, he could increase the amount of dark meat in his holiday meal. Many of our domestically produced meat products are different from their wild ancestors. God created creatures to survive in the natural world, not to please human preferences.

— John N. Clayton © 2021