Better Living Through Catalysts?

Recent advances may lead to new miracle drugs and more

For the past 10 years, between teaching budding chemical-engineering students at California Institute of Technology, Professor Mark E. Davis has repaired to his campus lab to play with piles of sand. Davis' specialty is zeolites--grains made of silicon, aluminum, and oxygen that are used as catalysts in oil refining. Molecules of crude enter thousands of tiny holes in zeolites, where they react with an acid and break down into gasoline, heating oil, and various byproducts. Davis' goal is to create synthency of catalysts would save 22 million barrels of oil a year and cut the U.S. trade deficit by more than $400 million.

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