New Arizona PBS series “Catalyst” explores how new science could change lives

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“Catalyst,” a new series produced by ASU journalism students for Arizona PBS, will delve into the details behind science headlines dealing with pollution, space, new technology, medications and more. Each episode will go into the lab to introduce the people responsible for these discoveries.

“Before any of those science headlines happen, there has to be a lot of hard, messy, frustrating and often fascinating work,” says executive producer Steve Filmer. “‘Catalyst’ is going to bring you all of those processes and the people who are putting so much hard work into answering the kind of questions that truly can change lives.”

One example of the type of messy science work that will be explained is how to collect CO2 from the air and how to then feed it to algae. Engineers and researchers developed a machine that is able to collect carbon dioxide emissions straight from the air. The gas is then fed to algae, which the plants convert to oxygen. Algae is also a useful ingredient in some medications and makeups.

The first episode of “Catalyst” will premiere on Arizona PBS on Wednesday, April 25 at 9 p.m. New episodes will be aired every Wednesday at 9 p.m. and Sunday at 2 p.m. For more information on the show visit azpbs.org/life-and-science/catalyst.

TED SIMONS: HARDLY A DAY PASSES WITHOUT A NEWS HEADLINE ABOUT SCIENCE. AND MANY OF THOSE HEADLINES ARE ABOUT RESEARCH THAT WILL LIKELY CHANGE YOUR LIFE IN SOME WAY. NEW TECHNOLOGY, BETTER MEDICINE, SPACE, THE HEALTH OF OUR AIR AND OCEANS. YOU MAY NOT NOW HOW MUCH OF THAT RESEARCH IS DRIVEN BY PEOPLE RIGHT HERE IN ARIZONA, STARTING TONIGHT, YOU WILL. STEVE FILLMER IS THE EXECUTIVE PRODUCER OF A SHOW CALLED CATALYST. STEVE IS HERE TO TELL US MORE. IT SOUNDS INTERESTING.

STEVE FILLMER: IT IS. BEFORE THE SCIENCE HEADLINES CAN HAPPEN, THERE HAS TO BE HARD, MESSY AND FASCINATING WORK. CATALYST WILL BRING YOU THE PROCESSES AND PEOPLE WHO ARE PUTTING SO MUCH HARD WORK INTO ANSWERING THE KINDS OF QUESTIONS THAT CAN CHANGE OUR LIVES. HERE'S JUST ONE EXAMPLE.

PROMO: I THINK IT'S IMPORTANT FOR PEOPLE TO UNDERSTAND THAT C-0-2 IS A GAS. IT HAS MASS AND IT'S A REAL THING. WE CAN'T JUST DUMP IT INTO THE ATMOSPHERE. WHEN I STARTED TO GET INVOLVED, IT STRUCK ME THAT WE NEED TO FIND TECHNOLOGY TO PULL C-O-2 OUT OF THE ENVIRONMENT. WE STAND IN THE WIND AND PICK THINGS UP.

SOT: WHEN IT'S DRY, IT HAS AN AFFINITY IN THE AIR. WHEN IT'S WET WITH WATER, IT EXPELS THE CO2. YOU CAN PUT IT IN THE AIR AND LET THE AIR DRY IT, AND IT WILL REMOVE THE CO2 FROM THE AIR THAT GOES THROUGH IT. IT WILL COLLAPSE AND FLOOD THE BOX AND MAKE IT WET AND EXHALE ALL OF THE C02 IT COLLECTED FROM THE AIR.

SOT: I'M HAPPY WITH THIS ONE. THIS TIME FOR THE FIRST TIME FOR THIS DEVICE, WE DIT I HAD REAL. WE WATCHED IN THE CO2 MONITOR TO SEE THAT IT WASSED IN RISING. AFTER A COUPLE OF YEARS WORKING ON IT, WE CAN FIRE IT UP FOR THE FIRST TIME.

SOT: THIS WAS A SMASHING SUCCESS FOR THE FIRST TRY.

REPORTER: PULLING CARBON DIOXIDE OUT OF THE AIR IS A BIG ACCOMPLISHMENT. WHAT DO YOU DO WITH THE C02? THESE PONDS ARE GROWING ALGAE. IT TAKES IN CARBON DIOXIDE AND GIVES OFF OXYGEN AND WATER. THE NEGATIVE EMISSION TEAM HAS TO CRAFT A WAY TO FEED THE CO2 TO THE ALLERGY. YOU CAN COUNT ON THE BIOLOGY IF YOU CAN FIGURE OUT THE PLUMBING.

SOT: THE DEVICE THAT CAPTURES THE CARBON DIOXIDE FROM THE ATMOSPHERE, THAT C02 IS CONCENTRATED IN THIS MACHINE HERE. THAT BRINE IS THEN PROCESSED THROUGH THE SILVER COLUMN HERE WHICH PRODUCES THE CARBON DIOXIDE GAS WHICH WE STORE IN THESE THREE TANKS. THE HIGH PRESSURE TANK, FEEDS THE GAS THROUGH THE METER HERE AND COMES OUT THROUGH THE PLASTIC TUBE. IT COMES HERE TO THE ALGAE PONDS. THE C02 THROUGH THE TUBE ENTERS INTO A MEMBRANE BUNDLE. WHEN THE CO2 DIFFUSES, THE ALGAE CAN DIRECT IT AND YOU DON'T LOSE ANY TO THE ATMOSPHERE. WE PROVIDE THE CO2 TO THE ALGAE CULTURES TO THE ATMOSPHERE THROUGH THE MACHINERY.

SOT: PEOPLE ASK US WHY WE ARE WORKING SO HARD TO GET C02 INTO AN ALGAE POND AND THE ANSWER IS THAT ALGAE HAS VALUE. IF WE DUMP THE GARBAGE IN FRONT OF YOUR HOUSE, I HAVE TO PICK UP THAT GARBAGE. IF YOU THINK ABOUT C02, THE GARBAGE HEAP IS THE ATMOSPHERE. THAT MAKES THE PROBLEM EASIER.


SOT: OUR GOAL HERE IS TO DO IT, BUILD THE MACHINE. WE KNOW IT WORKS. WE WOULD LIKE TO GET IT OUT FOR PUBLIC USE SO PEOPLE CAN SEE THAT IT WORKS, SHOW THEM WHY IT WORKS AND HOW IT WORKS AND HOW IT CAN CONTRIBUTE TO A CLIMATE SOLUTION IN THE FUTURE.

STEVE FILLMER: THE WORK FOR THAT SO-CALLED ARTIFICIAL TREE IS HAPPENING AT A-S-U'S CENTER FOR NEGATIVE CARBON EMISSIONS, WHICH IS WITHIN THE UNIVERSITY'S ENGINEERING SCHOOL. ANOTHER INTERESTING PROBLEM THEY'RE WORKING ON -IS KIND OF THE OPPOSITE OF REMOVING CARBON DIOXIDE -THEY'RE LOOKING AT WAYS TO "MAKE" OXYGEN FROM CARBON DIOXIDE, WORK THAT NA-SA IS SUPPORTING ON A FUTURE MISSION TO MARS.

TED SIMONS: THAT'S SO INTERESTING. THANK YOU SO MUCH FOR THAT. THAT'S IT FOR NOW. THANK YOU FOR JOINING US. YOU HAVE A GREAT EVENING.

Steve Filmer: Executive Producer, "Catalyst"

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