九州大学「惑星微量有機化合物研究センター」
Research Center for Planetary Trace Organic Compounds (PTOC)

ENGLISH

What is PTOC?

The research center for Planetary Trace Organic Compounds (PTOC) is aimed to study trace organic compounds under the extremely clean conditions for the understanding of chemical evolution in the universe. The PTOC center was founded on 2016, and supported by Grant-in-Aid for Scientific Research (S) of Japan Society for the Promotion of Science (JSPS) and Kyushu University.

Objectives

Organic compounds are distributed widely in terrestrial and extraterrestrial environments, and are characterized by their various chemical structures consisting predominantly of carbon (C) with hydrogen (H), nitrogen (N), oxygen (O) and sulfur (S). Recent ultrahigh-resolution mass spectral analysis have detected tens of thousands of different mass peaks consisting of C, H, N, O, and/or S in a carbonaceous meteorite. Considering the structural and optical isomers, hundreds of thousands of organic compounds may be present in the meteorite. Currently, the organic contents identified in meteorites correspond to only approx. 1% of the total compounds present. Moreover, the quantities of planetary material obtained by sample-return missions from asteroids or ocean-drilling projects are extremely limited. In order to obtain detailed information on planetary organic compounds, the development of ultra-high sensitivity and resolution analyses is needed.

Methods

The following advanced analyses and development will be performed over the next 5 years: 1) Clean room environment to avoid organic contamination; 2) Detection limit (sensitivity) down to ~10-18 mol from previous ~10-15 mol level; 3)Ultra-high mass resolution up to ~300,000 to determine the elemental composition using exact mass; 4) Superior chromatographic separation using high-resolution column and/or 2-D columns to determine structural and optical isomers; and 5) Development of in-situ organic compound analysis of sample surface using desorption electrospray ionization.

Expected achievements

The technical development will allow for the improved identification of organic compounds compared to current analysis, and will advance our studies of the formation pathways and origins of planetary materials. Furthermore, the new techniques will allow for the definitive identification of organic compounds in greatly reduced sample sizes (using ~µg of sample vs. current ~mg requirement), thereby contributing to the successful analysis for future sample-return missions (e.g. Hayabusa 2). The methodology will also be applicable to various types of other rare, precious, and small samples for environmental and biochemical studies.

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