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paying for them). Most of us now live
on the public grid at home. We don t
need a supercomputer in the garage;
we use the Internet to access Google
and Yahoo, we love eBay, we bank
from home, we upload and share pho-
tos on Flickr and movies on YouTube,
and we gather our news from various
sources across the Web.
Yet most major research institutions
and corporations are still reluctant to
leverage "utility computing"---comput-
ing power provided on demand over
the open Internet. To me, that s like
living without electricity.
But there are signs that change is
afoot. A good friend of mine, a bio-
informatician, described how frus-
trated he was at having to wait while
his university s private supercomput-
ing facility worked through its queue
of pending jobs to get to his. "If you
had a grid available online, I d bring
my whole budget to you," he said.
Granted, his budget was only about
$10,000 per quarter, but I assure you
there s a good business in ser ving the
"long tail"---the multitude of users
with narrow inter-
ests and needs that,
in aggregate, are the
I believe that in the
power available over
the Internet will be
purchased by that tail.
There are, after all,
far more small businesses than large
ones. I m very comfortable betting on
the value in volume---and the willing-
ness of those smaller rms to change
culture, process, and lifestyle to get a
competitive advantage through net-
work ser vices.
The simplicity, accessibility, and
a ordability of a tr ue Internet util-
ity computing service will change
the face of computing for all organi-
zations, large and small, public and
private. And they won t have to house
the grid, manage it, power it, provi-
sion it...or buy it.
Jonathan Schwartz was named chief executive
officer of Sun Microsystems in April.
Richard Schrock describes
why finding an elusive catalyst
could have a surprising impact
on energy consumption.
Molecular nitrogen (dinitrogen,
N≡N) makes up about 78 per-
cent of the atmosphere. It is
the most unreactive diatomic species
known. Interestingly, however, nitrogen
is required for all life; it is used to build
proteins and DNA. Therefore, dinitro-
gen must be turned into a molecule that
can be assimilated readily by plants.
That molecule is ammonia, NH3.
Prior to World War I, the iron-
catalyzed Haber-Bosch process for
ammonia synthesis at high tempera-
tures (350 to 550 °C) and pressures
(150 to 350 atmospheres)
from dinitrogen and
dihydrogen (H2) was dis-
covered. It is perhaps the
most important indus-
trial process ever devel-
oped and responsible for
a dramatic increase in the
population of the earth
during the 20th century,
because it supplies a reli-
able source of nitrogen for fertilizers.
But because the Haber-Bosch pro-
cess requires high temperatures and
pressures, it consumes tremendous
amounts of energy; it is estimated that
as much as 1 percent of the world s
total energy consumption is devoted
to the process.
Nature also reduces dinitrogen
using metalloenzymes in bacteria
and blue-green algae, but at only one
atmosphere of pressure and mild
temperatures. The metalloenzymes,
called nitrogenases, contain iron and
usually molybdenum. Ever since their
discovery more than 40 years ago,
chemists have speculated about how
reduction of dinitrogen occurs and
whether an "arti cial" nitrogenase
could be developed that would lead to
a more energy-e cient process than
Haber-Bosch. Perhaps a thousand
man-years and billions of dollars have
been spent studying
how nitrogenases work
and trying to make
arti cial ones.
In 2003, my group
showed that it is pos-
sible to make ammo-
nia catalytically from
and electrons. This
is accomplished at
a single molybde-
num metal center. In
the presence of pro-
tons and electrons in a nonaqueous
medium, dinitrogen is reduced to
ammonia with an e ciency in elec-
trons of around 65 percent; the
remaining electrons are used to make
dihydrogen, which is in this context a
wasteful and undesirable product. Our
catalyst is not great, but it is a start.
Nature has developed a highly
optimized version of the nitrogen
reduction process over a period of a
few billion years. Ours is an "arti -
cial" nitrogenase that is barely cata-
lytic. We are trying to identify the key
problem or problems that prevent it
from working well. Perhaps then we
can improve its e ciency.
Can we design catalysts that will
be as e cient as natural nitroge-
nases? Possibly. Will the Haber-
Bosch process ever be replaced
by catalysts that do not operate at
high pressures and temperatures?
Unknown. Only time, money, and
ingenuity will reveal the answer.
Richard R. Schrock, the Frederick G. Keyes
Professor of Chemistry at MIT, won the 2005
Nobel Prize in chemistry.
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