Tracking the development of hydrocarbons on the surface of magnetite
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Magnetite is a common mineral found at hydrothermal vents and is thought to be the host of Fischer-Tropsch type reactions that allow organic compounds, mainly hydrocarbons, to form from inorganic sources. The method to produce hydrocarbons involved introducing hydrogen and carbon gas to the magnetite in high pressure and temperature conditions meant to mimic those at hydrothermal vents. With the use of an atomic force microscope (AFM), images of the surface of magnetite samples can be produced which allow us to observe the development of hydrocarbons directly. However, using an AFM to image powdered magnetite proved to be nearly impossible so a better method to observe the magnetite’s surface is needed. Photoelectron spectrometry or a Secondary Ion Mass Spectrometer could be used to determine the molecular structure of samples and thus reveal any presence of organic compounds. Being able to track the formation of hydrocarbons on magnetite would provide visual evidence for a possible origin of primitive life on earth and potentially other planets.