NNU Associate Professor of Mathematics Dr. Jason Colwell recently published an article in the MDPI journal about his research that solves a forty-year-old question. When setting out to pursue his research, the question he was aiming to answer was why homochirality never seems to arise naturally and what was getting in the way. Dr. Colwell’s research speaks about the chemical phenomenon called “homochirality” and the conditions of success for the Kondepudi-Nelson model, a proposed model that has been in use for forty years regarding the natural development of the phenomenon.
Certain compounds are different from their mirror image versions. There are right-handed and left-handed molecules, but typically, there are equal quantities of each in a chemical equation. The Kondepudi-Nelson Model, proposed in 1983, explains that for homochirality to arise, the symmetry in which chiral compounds produce left- and right-handed enantiomers must be broken.
“Living cells do well maintaining homochirality, but how this could occur naturally in a chemical solution hasn’t been understood,” explains Dr. Colwell.
Dr. Colwell identified a simple, necessary and sufficient condition for symmetry breaking in the Kondepudi-Nelson system and supplied further evidence using rigorous mathematical proof of the result. “The Kondepudi-Nelson model is ubiquitous in the literature, but the conditions for its success have never been determined in general—until now,” says Dr. Colwell.
Going forward, Dr.Colwell’s research will prove to be useful regarding the origin of life. He is currently keeping busy by working on the continuation of research on this topic.