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05. How Flames Burn

Terrill CoolTerrill A. Cool, Applied and Engineering Physics, and research colleagues discovered compounds in fire that have eluded detection through 150 years of research in flame chemistry. The new compound, enols, are in the alcohol family and have a structure with properties of both alkenes and alcohols. Detection of the compounds had escaped previous discovery because they were obscured by a related compound, isomer, with the same mass, which had long been known to exist in fire. A new technique for studying the compounds in flames, which revealed both the structure and the mass, allowed the researchers to distinguished between the molecules and made the discovery possible. Hundreds of chemical species form and turn into other products when fires burn. Enols are among these intermediary species. To study fire chemistry, scientists use computer models to simulate chemical reactions during combustion flames. The discovery offers new directions in efforts to reduce soot and other pollutants in flames, improve fuel cells, and model planetary atmospheres and other interstellar chemistry.

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