MINNEAPOLIS / ST. PAUL -- Noting that 1999 has been flooded with reports on Y2K, University of Minnesota associate chemistry professors Jeffrey Roberts and Christopher Cramer were shocked to learn that the chemical literature contained no mention of this timely molecule, which could conceivably form when two atoms of yttrium (abbreviated Y on the periodic chart) combine with one atom of potassium (abbreviated K). (In the same manner, water--H2O--forms from two atoms of hydrogen plus one atom of oxygen.) The researchers promptly performed an in-depth quantum chemical analysis of diyttrium potassium, or Y2K, which will be reported in the Dec. 17 issue of Science.
"Our computers encountered no problems in analyzing Y2K," said Roberts. He said he and Cramer are mulling over the possibility of analyzing two other yttrium-containing compounds, YOY (two yttriums, one oxygen) and YNOT (yttrium, nitrogen, oxygen and tritium, a radioactive form of hydrogen).
"We could have studied Y3K too, but we thought we could put it off," the researchers said.
The chemists used the resources of the university's Minnesota Supercomputing Institute to determine that two yttriums and a potassium could indeed come together chemically, at least as a single molecule. Their analysis indicated that the molecule could adopt either of two shapes with roughly equal facility--linear, as Y-Y-K, or T-shaped, they said.
They did not try to predict its solid-state properties, leaving open the possibility that Y2K might someday be used in computer chips. Roberts and Cramer said that should solid Y2K get into a computer, it should pose no problem, provided coffee has not been spilled in the keyboard. (The danger stems from the tendency of potassium to react violently with water.)
Nevertheless, "We suspect that solid Y2K could be the material of the millennium," the researchers said.
The researchers wish to point out to their dean and department head that only 12 hours of supercomputer time were spent on the analysis.
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