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Chemistry News Archive October 2008

Chemistry News October 2008

News of the year 2008 in the fields of chemistry and chemistry-related topics like biochemistry, nantechnology, medicinal chemistry etc.

Main focus: press releases, scientific research results and summaries of chemistry articles, that are published in chemistry journals.

Please send us a eMail to publish your press release!




Carbon dioxide is a greenhouse gas which accelerates global warming - but it could also become a versatile synthetic chemical

Copper catalyst recycles carbon dioxide

Versatile reaction could help greenhouse gas become a more useful synthetic chemical.

[Image by Riken Research]


Miller-Urey's original experiment

'Lost' Miller-Urey experiment created more of life's building blocks

A classic experiment proving amino acids are created when inorganic molecules are exposed to electricity isn't the whole story, it turns out. The 1953 Miller-Urey Synthesis had two sibling studies, neither of which was published. Vials containing the products from those experiments were recently recovered and reanalyzed using modern technology.

Image: The apparatus used for Miller's original experiment. Boiled water (1) creates airflow, driving steam and gases through a spark (2). A cooling condenser (3) turns some steam back into liquid water, which drips down into the trap (4), where chemical products also settle.

[Credit: Ned Shaw, Indiana University]


New graphene-based material clarifies graphite oxide chemistry
A new "graphene-based" material that helps solve the structure of graphite oxide and could lead to other potential discoveries of the one-atom thick substance called graphene, which has applications in nanoelectronics, energy storage and production, and transportation such as airplanes and cars has been created by researchers at The University of Texas at Austin.


Physics - Fundamental Research


Microscopic structure of quantum gases made visible

Physicists of Mainz University have first managed to plot the distribution of individual gases in the Bose-Einstein condensate / Published in Nature Physics.

Image: Inside the high-resolution scanning electron microscope.

[Photo by QUANTUM, Mainz University]


Duke Innovations Improve Accuracy Of MRI As Internal "Thermometer"
Duke University chemists say they have developed a new way to measure temperature changes inside the body with unprecedented precision by correcting a subtle error in the original theory underlying Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI).


Terahertz Goes Nano
A report in Nano Letters describes a breakthrough in modern microscopy: the achievement of extremely high-resolution imaging using light in the Terahertz (THz) region (wavelengths between 30 and 1000 �m).


Chemistry & Biology


Scientists use light to control proteins

Surface Sites for Engineering Allosteric Control in Proteins.

A team of researchers from Penn State and the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center has discovered a way to use light to control certain proteins that catalyze biochemical reactions.


Rutgers researchers identify new antibiotic target and new antibiotic mechanism
Findings may lead to new broad-spectrum antibacterial agents, tuberculosis treatments.


Chemistry & Medicine


Virtual screening leads to real progress in drug design
Researchers used a unique computational approach to identify five compounds that could lead to new drugs to combat the disease.


Crossing the boundary: how proteins permit entry to cell
Scientists have made a breakthrough in understanding the inner workings of transporter proteins, which help essential chemicals move around the human body.



Scientists develop new cancer-killing compound from salad plant

Researchers at the University of Washington have updated a traditional Chinese medicine to create a compound that is more than 1,200 times more specific in killing certain kinds of cancer cells than currently available drugs, heralding the possibility of a more effective chemotherapy drug with minimal side effects.


EMBO Molecular Medicine
A new journal where molecular biology meets clinical research.


Chemistry & Materials


Engineering nanoparticles for maximum strength
Individual nanocrystals are remarkably strong. But under stress, complex nanostructures quickly fail because of internal strains. New research on hollow nanospheres shows that engineering can greatly increase the strength of complex nanoparticles. The results could lead to stronger nanostructures and large-scale alloys as well.


Nanoscale coating protect products - and the economy
UWM researcher creates smart coatings that fortify materials.


Chemistry & Environment


Resveratrol, red wine compound linked to health, also found in dark chocolate and cocoa
A study shows that resveratrol, the compound often associated with the health benefits of red wine, is also found in cocoa and dark chocolate products.


ACS News (open access articles):



Revealing secrets of "African sleeping sickness"

Scientists in the United Kingdom and Russia are reporting identification of a long-sought chink in the armor of the parasite that causes African sleeping sickness, a parasitic disease that kills at least 50,000 people each year. Their study appears in the current edition of ACS Chemical Biology, a monthly journal.

In the study, Michael Ferguson and colleagues cite an "urgent" need for new treatments for the disease, which is spread by the tsetse fly and also affects cattle � a precious possession that represents a bank account on four feet to impoverished people in sub-Sahara Africa. Current treatments for African sleeping sickness, Ferguson says, are not only difficult to administer, but also expensive and toxic.

Their research identified the first compound to impede a key step in an essential biochemical pathway in the sleeping sickness parasite. Blocking this pathway disrupts the production of a key glycolipid that anchors protective proteins to the surface of the parasite. The analysis also revealed notable differences between pathways of parasitic and human cells, which could reveal insight into possible therapeutic targets. - JS

ACS Chemical Biology: "Probing Enzymes Late in the Trypanosomal Glycosylphosphatidylinositol Biosynthetic Pathway with Synthetic Glycosylphosphatidylinositol Analogues".


World's smallest hand-held instrument for detecting health and safety threats

Chemists have developed the world's smallest mass spectrometer, the Mini 11, which could be used to detect hidden explosives or bioterrorism agents.

Credit: American Chemical Society

Researchers in Indiana are describing development of the world's smallest complete mass spectrometer (MS), a miniature version of a standard lab device - some of which would dominate a living room - to identify tiny amounts of chemicals in the environment. The hand-held MS, about the size of a shoebox, could speed the detection of bioterrorism agents, hidden explosives, and other threats, the researchers say. Their study is scheduled for the current issue of ACS' Analytical Chemistry, a semi-monthly journal.

R. Graham Cooks, Zheng Ouyang, and colleagues note that scientists have developed several different versions of portable mass spectrometers over the past few decades. However, the instruments' large size, weight, and inability to analyze a wide variety of different target molecules have limited their practical use.

The scientists responded to the need for a small but sensitive MS by developing the Mini 11. About the size of a small shoebox, it weighs only 9 pounds (half the weight of other portable MSs), and can be operated by remote control. Laboratory tests showed that the Mini 11 could accurately identify the chemical composition of three commonly used commercial drugs within just one minute using tandem mass spectrometry. Unlike previous portable mass specs, this new instrument is capable of analyzing a wider variety of molecules, including large proteins, the scientists say. - MTS

Analytical Chemistry: "Design and Characterization of a Multisource Hand-Held Tandem Mass Spectrometer".


Newly approved pesticide stirs controversy over health effects

Even though the U. S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has given final approval for use of a new pesticide, regulators in California and other states are taking a closer look at the substance's potential adverse health effects before allowing the chemical to be used, according to an article scheduled for the Oct. 27 issue of Chemical & Engineering News, ACS' weekly newsmagazine.

In the article, C&EN Associate Editor Britt E. Erickson notes that EPA first considered approving the pesticide, methyl iodide, in 2006 as a replacement for methyl bromide - which is now being phased out because of environmental concerns that it may damage the ozone layer. Although methyl iodide appears unlikely to have that effect, it is toxic to nerve cells and may carry a risk of thyroid damage, cancer, and other adverse health effects.

At least one environmental group and some scientists opposed EPA's approval of the pesticide, alleging that EPA had been secretive during the review process, failing to fully consider the chemical's health effects, and they pointed to an apparent conflict of interest involving the pesticide's manufacturer. States like California and Florida had their own concerns about the pesticide's safety and decided to do their own risk assessments before allowing use of methyl iodide. Florida finished its assessment and approved the use of methyl iodide last July, but not before requiring additional safety measures beyond those required by EPA. California's assessment is still ongoing, the article notes.

Chemical & Engineering News: "Methyl iodide saga continues".


Soybeans no longer a musical fruit?


Food chemists have removed gas-producing sugars in products containing soy - a find that could be music to consumers' ears.

Credit: US Department of Agriculture

Soybeans may drop off the list of musical fruit. Scientists in Singapore are reporting victory over some consumers' No. 1 complaint about soy products - the "flatulence factor" caused by indigestible sugars found in soy. In a study scheduled for the November 12 issue of ACS' bi-weekly Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry, they describe a method for significantly reducing the amount of flatulence-causing carbohydrates in soy yogurt while raising the levels of healthy antioxidants known as isoflavones.

In the study, Dejian Huang and colleagues note that soy yogurt has a global market share of only 1.9 percent, even though it has a number of health advantages over dairy-based yogurt. That's partly because of the flatulence-causing compounds in soy. "It would be desirable to remove the flatulence-causing raffinose and stachyose from the soy yogurt to improve consumers' preferences. The objective of this study was to develop a new soy yogurt enriched with isoflavones with reduced levels of flatulence-causing oligosaccharides," the scientists said.

The researchers grew soybeans in the presence of a fungus that produced enzymes capable of degrading the undesired sugars. "We have demonstrated for the first time that germinated black soybeans under fungal stress can be fermented into a soy yogurt which features a low amount of flatulence-causing oligosaccharides but with a significant level of isoflavones," says Huang. - AD

Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry: "Novel Process of Fermenting Black Soybean [Glycine max (L.) Merrill] Yogurt with Dramatically Reduced Flatulence-Causing Oligosaccharides but Enriched Soy Phytoalexins".


Toward non-invasive disease diagnosis with "wellness cards"

Electronic reader

 A new electronic "reader" could provide disease diagnosis from a small amount of a patient's saliva or blood.

Credit: American Chemical Society

Scientists are reporting development of a device that could serve as the electronic "reader" for a coming generation of "wellness cards," specimen holders used to diagnose disease from a drop of a patient's saliva or blood. The research, done by scientists in Utah, Iowa, Arizona, and Minnesota, is presented in two papers scheduled for the November 1 issue of ACS' Analytical Chemistry, a semi-monthly journal.

In those studies, Marc Porter and colleagues describe using the same technology at the heart of miniaturized hard disk drives to create the new rapid-screening sensor. Using a phenomenon known as giant magnetoresistance (GMR), the device can detect samples on much smaller areas compared to older technologies, the papers note.

As a test, Porter demonstrated the GMR sensor could detect as few as 800 magnetic beads with microscopic dimensions. "Several laboratories have begun to transition GMRs from the data storage domain to that of the bioanalytical sciences," the paper states. "We believe that, by leveraging advances made in the magnetic recording industry (for example portable digital music players), a robust, field-deployable, assay device capable of sensing single-binding events is just over the horizon." - JS

Analytical Chemistry:

"Giant Magnetoresistance Sensors.
 1. Internally Calibrated Readout of Scanned Magnetic Arrays"

"Giant Magnetoresistive Sensors.
 2. Detection of Biorecognition Events at Self-Referencing and Magnetically Tagged Arrays"


LEDs may help reduce skin wrinkles, researchers report.

Skin wrinkles

LEDs may help reduce skin wrinkles, researches report.

Credit: American Chemical Society

Researchers in Germany are describing a potential alternative to Botox and cosmetic surgery for easing facial wrinkles. Their study, scheduled for the November 5 issue of ACS' Crystal Growth & Design, a bi-monthly journal, reports that high intensity visible light from light emitting diodes (LEDs) applied daily for several weeks resulted in "rejuvenated skin, reduced wrinkle levels, juvenile complexion and lasting resilience." LEDs are the miniature lights used in an array of products, from TV remote controls to traffic lights.

In the study, Andrei P. Sommer and Dan Zhu point out that high-intensity visible light has been used in medicine for more than 40 years to speed healing of wounds. That light actually penetrates into the skin, causing changes in the sub-surface tissue. Until now, however, scientists have not known the physicochemical nature of those changes.

They report identifying how the visible light works - by changing the molecular structure of a glue-like layer of water on elastin, the protein that provides elasticity in skin, blood vessels, heart and other body structures. Figuratively speaking, the light strips away those water molecules that are involved in the immobilization of elastin, gradually restoring its elastic function and thus reducing facial wrinkles. "We are justified in believing that our approach can be easily converted to deep body rejuvenation programs," the researchers state. - AD

Crystal Growth & Design: "From Microtornadoes to Facial Rejuvenation: Implication of Interfacial Water Layers".


Spinning natural proteins into fabrics for new wound-repair products

Natural protein from cow's blood

Natural protein from cow's blood may lead to improved sutures and bandages for treating wounds.

Credit: American Chemical Society

Scientists in Israel are reporting the first successful spinning of a key natural protein into strong nano-sized fibers about 1/50,000th the width of a human hair. The advance could lead to a new generation of stronger, longer-lasting biocompatible sutures and bandages to treat wounds. The study is scheduled for the November 10 issue of ACS' Biomacromolecules, a monthly journal.

Eyal Zussman and colleagues point out that researchers have tried for years to develop wound repair materials from natural proteins, hoping that such fibers would be more compatible with body tissue than existing materials. Scientists recently focused on producing these fibers through "electrospinning," a high-tech weaving process that uses electrical charges to draw out nano-sized fibers from a liquid. But the approach has achieved poor results until now.

In the new study, the scientists describe a new method for producing electrospun polymers using bovine serum albumin (BSA), a so-called "globular" protein found in cow's blood. BSA is similar to serum albumin, one of the most abundant proteins in the human body. The method involves adding certain chemicals to a solution of BSA to loosen the bonds that hold these highly-folded proteins together. That results in a thinner, more spinnable protein solution. Using electrospinning, the process resulted in strong fibers that are easily spun into suture-like threads or thick mats resembling conventional wound dressings. This approach is being followed by the groups of Zvi Nevo and Abraham Katzir at Tel-Aviv University, the researchers said, noting that the new method also can be applied to other types of natural proteins. - MTS

Biomacromolecules: "Nanofibers Made of Globular Proteins".


Alternative fuels may drain dwindling water supplies

As the search for new fuels intensifies, researchers in Texas report that switching to certain alternative fuels to power cars, trucks, and SUVs may require the use of much more water than conventional petroleum-based gasoline and diesel. The findings suggest that producing alternative fuels could strain already limited water supplies in some regions of the country. Their study is scheduled for the October 15 issue of ACS' Environmental Science & Technology, a semi-monthly journal.

In the study, Carey King and Michael Webber point out that as the need for alternative transportation fuels increases, it is important to understand how fuels based on raw materials other than petroleum could affect other essential resources, such as water. While petroleum-based fuels have had a small impact on U.S. water reserves, alternative fuels could put a much larger dent in our water supply.

The scientists analyzed the amount of water withdrawn (used and returned directly to its source) and consumed (not directly returned to its source) during the production and use of different fuels. They found that vehicles running on electricity and hydrogen produced with electricity withdraw up to 20 times more water and consume more than five times more water than those using petroleum-based gasoline. But not all fuels are created the same - hydrogen and electricity can also be derived from renewable energy sources that use no water, they note. The authors suggest that additional research could determine viable areas where fuels can be mined, farmed, refined, and consumed to minimize regional impacts while maximizing water resource and energy sustainability. - KSD

Environmental Science & Technology: "Water Intensity of Transportation".


Squeezing more synthetic fuel from abundant supplies of coal

Scientists in Italy are reporting that a new process could eliminate key obstacles to expanded use of coal gasification to transform that abundant domestic energy resource into synthetic liquid fuels for cars and trucks. The study is scheduled for the November 19 issue of ACS' bi-monthly journal, Energy & Fuels.

In the study, Maria Sudiro and colleagues note that coal is the only conventional energy source with the potential for meeting global energy demands in the near future. World coal reserves, they note, are 25 percent greater than crude oil and the United States alone has enough coal to supply its own energy needs for centuries. However, existing processes for converting coal into much-needed liquid fuels are uneconomical and release too much carbon dioxide, a greenhouse gas, and other air pollutants.

Based on laboratory simulations and comparisons with conventional coal gasification, their system was 70 percent more energy efficient, yielded 40 percent more fuel and released 32 per cent less carbon dioxide. "The new process configuration can represent a valuable alternative route to obtain syngas both for electric power generation and for synthetic fuel production," the report states. - MTS

Energy & Fuels: "Improving process performances in Coal Gasification for Power and Synfuel Production".


Race for better superconductors heats up

Scientists have discovered a new family of superconductors - materials that carry electricity more efficiently than copper and other metals - whose properties rekindle enthusiasm about the possibility that these exotic materials could have practical applications in ultra-efficient electrical motors, power-generating stations, and other areas. The latest developments are chronicled in an article scheduled for the Oct. 20 issue of Chemical & Engineering News, ACS' weekly newsmagazine.

In the C&EN cover story, Senior Editor Mitch Jacoby notes that traditional superconductors, the first examples of which were discovered almost a century ago, must be cooled to very low temperatures with expensive liquid helium. In the mid-1980s, however, scientists discovered so-called high-temperature superconductors, which could be cooled more economically with liquid nitrogen. But even then, the cost of cooling the conductors, as well as the difficulty in forming the materials in wires and other practical shapes, ruled out practical large-scale applications, such as municipal power systems.

Jacoby describes the discovery earlier this year of new superconductors whose compositions include iron and arsenic that still must be chilled below liquid-nitrogen temperatures but could lead to HTSCs that work at much higher temperatures. Until now, researchers thought that this high-temperature behavior was limited to superconductors composed of copper oxides, the article notes. The discovery has reignited an international scientific race to discover additional HTSCs that require less cooling - perhaps even no cooling - and that could have many practical applications, the article notes.

Chemical & Engineering News: "Superconductivity heats up again".


"Grandma's penicillin" also may help high blood pressure

Chicken soup, that popular home remedy for the common cold sometimes known as "Grandma's Penicillin," may have a new role alongside medication and other medical measures in fighting high blood pressure, scientists in Japan are reporting. Their research is scheduled for the October 22 issue of ACS' biweekly Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry.

Ai Saiga and colleagues cite previous studies indicating that chicken breast contains collagen proteins with effects similar to ACE inhibitors, mainstay medications for treating high blood pressure. But chicken breast contains such small amounts of the proteins that it could not be used to develop food and medical products for high blood pressure. Chicken legs and feet, often discarded as waste products in the U.S. but key soup ingredients elsewhere, appear to be a better source.

In the new study, Saiga and colleagues extracted collagen from chicken legs and tested its ability to act as an ACE inhibitor in the laboratory studies. They identified four different proteins in the collagen mixture with high ACE-inhibitory activity. Given to rats used to model human high blood pressure, the proteins produced a significant and prolonged decrease in blood pressure, the researchers say. - MTS

Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry: "Angiotensin I-Converting Enzyme-Inhibitory Peptides obtained from Chicken Collagen Hydrolysate".


Toward an effective treatment for a major hereditary disease

Scientists are reporting a key advance toward developing the first effective drug treatment for spinal muscular atrophy (SMA), a genetic disease that involves motor neuron loss and occurs in 1 out of every 6,000 births. SMA is the leading cause of hereditary infant death in the United States. The study is scheduled for publication online Oct. 8 by ACS Chemical Biology, a monthly journal.

Mark E. Gurney, Jill Jarecki, and colleagues note that SMA is caused by a defective gene, SMN1, which fails to produce sufficient amounts of a key protein, called SMN (survival motor neuron), needed for normal motor neuron development. Scientists have screened more than 550,000 compounds in the search for a new SMA drug. Recent research pointed to a group of compounds called C5-quinazolines that can boost SMN2 activity, a uniquely existing back-up gene for SMN1. In doing so, they showed promise for treating SMA by producing increased amounts of the needed protein.

In the new study, researchers identified exactly how these promising compounds work, a key step in moving forward toward medical use. They found that the substance targets a normal cellular protein, DcpS, involved in mRNA metabolism whose inhibition causes increased SMN expression. The finding could help guide the development of the first effective drugs for treating SMA and also lead to second generation drugs targeting this enzyme, the researchers say. "The results outlined in the paper and carried out in collaboration with Families of SMA, deCODE chemistry & biostructures, Invitrogen Corporation, and Rutgers University represent a new understanding of the physiological mechanisms that can increase SMN expression and will allow us to move forward in advancing potential treatments for it, says Jill Jarecki, Ph.D., Research Director at Families of SMA. - MTS

ACS Chemical Biology: "DcpS as a Therapeutic Target for Spinal Muscular Atrophy".


Byproduct of steel shows potential in CO2 sequestration

With steelworks around the world emitting huge amounts of carbon dioxide, scientists are reporting that a byproduct of steel production could be used to absorb that greenhouse gas to help control global warming. The study is scheduled for the October 15 issue of ACS' Industrial & Engineering Chemistry Research, a bi-weekly journal.

Professor Mourad Kharoune and colleagues point out that production of one ton of steel releases up to one ton of CO2. With global steel production standing at 1.34 billion tons in 2007, that adds up to a substantial contribution of carbon dioxide. Kharoune suggests a new method to sequester, or capture, carbon dioxide so that it does not contribute to global warming � using steel slags, which are complex mixtures of compounds produced during the separation of the molten steel from impurities.

In the study, Kharoune suggests that electric arc furnace (EAF) and ladle furnace (LF) slag suspensions could be used for greenhouse-gas sequestration. According to the report, the ladle furnace slag suspension's capacity to sequester emissions was 14 times higher than that of the EAF suspension, possibly due to the LF's higher content of a rare mineral called portlandite. - JS

Industrial & Engineering Chemistry Research: "CO2 Sequestration Potential of Steel Slags at Ambient Pressure and Temperature".


First evidence that a common pollutant may reduce iodine levels in breast milk

Researchers in Texas are reporting the first evidence from human studies that perchlorate, a common pollutant increasingly found in food and water, may interfere with an infant's availability of iodine in breast milk. Iodine deficiency in infants can cause mental retardation and other health problems, the scientists note. The study also provides further evidence that iodine intake in U.S. mothers is low and that perchlorate may play a key role.

In a study scheduled for the November 1 issue of ACS' semi-monthly Environmental Science & Technology, Purnendu Dasgupta and colleagues note that perchlorate occurs naturally in the soil and is also manufactured as a rocket fuel and explosive ingredient. Past studies showed that perchlorate can inhibit iodine uptake. However, scientists did not know its effects on iodine levels in the milk of nursing mothers.

To find out, the researchers collected breast milk samples from 13 breastfeeding mothers and measured their content of iodine, perchlorate, and thiocyanate, another iodine inhibitor found in certain foods. The study showed that if these breast milk samples were fed to infants, 12 of 13 infants would not have an adequate intake of iodine. It also showed that nine of the infants would have ingested perchlorate at a level exceeding those considered safe by the National Academy of Sciences. "Even though the number of subjects was not large, in terms of the number of total samples analyzed, this is the most extensive study on the topic," the researchers say, adding that the low iodine levels are "disconcerting." - MTS

Environmental Science & Technology: "Intake of Iodine and Perchlorate and Excretion in Human Milk".


Freeing protein-based drugs from bacteria's natural traps

In a finding that could speed the development of new protein-based drugs for fighting diabetes, hepatitis, and other diseases, researchers are reporting progress toward preventing or destroying an unusual structure that reduces the production yield of bioengineered drugs. The article is scheduled for the Oct. 13 issue of Chemical & Engineering News, ACS' weekly newsmagazine.

In the article, C&EN Associate Editor Jyllian Kemsley notes that genetically-engineered E. coli bacteria are increasingly used to produce protein-based drugs for a variety of diseases. However, these proteins are often not usable because they become trapped in large, insoluble clumps called "inclusion bodies." Current methods to extract proteins trapped in these clumps involve breaking down the clumps chemically and refolding the proteins, a process that is inefficient and sometimes destroys the desired protein.

In the article, Kemsley describes new research insights into the structure and formation of these unusual clumps that could lead to their prevention. Scientists, for instance, have discovered evidence that inclusion bodies form due to interactions between molecular structures called beta-sheets and that clumping could be prevented by preventing beta-sheet interactions.

Chemical & Engineering News: "Protein Aggregates Probed".


New material could speed development of hydrogen powered vehicles

Researchers have designed a material made of graphene sheets for hydrogen storage that could advance development of hydrogen powered vehicles.

Image by Oak Ridge National Laboratory

Researchers in Greece report design of a new material that almost meets the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) 2010 goals for hydrogen storage and could help eliminate a key roadblock to practical hydrogen-powered vehicles. Their study on a way of safely storing hydrogen, an explosive gas, is scheduled for the Oct. 8 issue of ACS' Nano Letters, a monthly journal.

Georgios K. Dimitrakakis, Emmanuel Tylianakis, and George E. Froudakis note that researchers long have sought ways of using carbon nanotubes (CNTs) to store hydrogen in fuel cell vehicles. CNTs are minute cylinders of carbon about 50,000 times thinner than the width of a human hair. Scientists hope to use CNTs as miniature storage tanks for hydrogen in the coming generation of fuel cell vehicles.

In the new study, the researchers used computer modeling to design a unique hydrogen-storage structure consisting of parallel graphene sheets - layers of carbon just one atom thick - stabilized by vertical columns of CNTs. They also added lithium ions to the material's design to enhance its storage capacity. The scientists' calculations showed that their so-called "pillared graphene" could theoretically store up to 41 grams of hydrogen per liter, almost matching the DOE's target (45 grams of hydrogen per liter) for transportation applications. "Experimentalists are challenged to fabricate this material and validate its storage capacity," the researchers note.

Nano Letters: "Pillared Graphene: A New 3-D Network Nanostructure for Enhanced Hydrogen Storage".


Playing Pinball with Atoms

Scientists are reporting construction and testing of a nanotech device that responds to on-off stimuli and resembles flippers on a pinball machine.

Image by Harold J. W. Zandvliet

With nanotechnology yielding a burgeoning menagerie of microscopic pumps, motors, and other machines for potential use in medicine and industry, here is one good question: How will humans turn those devices on and off? In an advance toward giving humans that control, scientists in The Netherlands are reporting use of an external electrical signal to control an atomic-scale mechanical device that looks like the flippers on a pinball machine. Their report is scheduled for the Oct. 8 issue of ACS' monthly journal Nano Letters.

In the study, Harold J. W. Zandvliet and colleagues point out that efforts to build ever-smaller mechanical devices have made scientists recognize the difficulty of exerting control over these nanomachines, which are too tiny for any conventional on-off-switch. They describe construction and successful testing of a device, "grown" on a wafer of germanium crystal, that responds to on-off stimuli.

Researchers say the device - so tiny that billions would fit on the head of a pin - resembles the arms or flippers on a pinball machine. The signals for the arms to move back and forth come from the tip of a scanning tunneling microscope. "By precisely controlling the tip current and distance, we make two atom pairs behave like the flippers on an atomic-sized pinball machine," they state. "Our observations prove unambiguously that it is possible to control an atomic scale mechanical device using a simple electrical signal. A better understanding of similar devices can shed light on the future possibilities and opportunities for the application of atomic-scale devices."

Nano Letters: "Playing Pinball with Atoms".


Potentially toxic flame retardants highest in California households

Scientists report that California residents have higher-than-average blood levels of a possibly toxic flame retardant called PBDEs, which are used in upholstered furniture and electronics.

Image by Arlene Blum

In what may be an unintended consequence of efforts to make furniture safer and less flammable, residents of California have blood levels of potentially toxic flame retardants called PBDEs at levels nearly twice the national average, scientists from Massachusetts and California are reporting. Their study, the first to examine regional variations in PBDE levels in household dust and blood within the U.S., is scheduled for posting online Oct. 1 by ACS' semi-monthly journal Environmental Science & Technology.

In the new study, Ami Zota and colleagues note that PBDEs (polybrominated diphenyl ethers) are widely used as flame retardants in upholstered furniture and electronics. The materials are released into the environment as dust particles, where they can accumulate in homes as well as human blood and tissue. Although their exact effects in humans are unclear, studies in animals suggest that PBDEs may cause thyroid, developmental, and reproductive problems. Since California has among the most stringent furniture flammability standards, the researchers suspected that state residents may have higher levels of PBDE dust exposure than others in the United States.

To find out, the scientists compared data on PBDE concentrations in house dust from 49 California homes with concentrations reported from 120 Massachusetts homes and several other areas. The researchers also compared data on blood levels of PBDEs in California residents to blood levels in residents of other regions. They found that PBDE levels in California homes were four to 10 times higher than other U.S. areas. They also found that blood levels of some PBDEs were significantly higher in California residents than the rest of the country. "These findings raise concern about pending regulations and performance standards that encourage the widespread use of chemical flame retardants, which are toxic or whose safety is uncharacterized," the article states. - MTS and AD

Environmental Science & Technology: "Elevated House Dust and Serum Concentrations of PBDEs in California: Unintended Consequences of Furniture Flammability Standards?"


Fungus fights air pollution by removing sulfur from crude oil

Researchers in Iran are publishing what they describe as the first study on a fungus that can remove sulfur - a major source of air pollution - from crude oil more effectively than conventional refining methods. The finding could help reduce air pollution and acid rain caused by the release of sulfur components in gasoline and may help oil companies meet tougher emission standards for fuel, the scientists say. Their study is scheduled for the Oct. 1 issue of ACS' Industrial & Engineering Chemistry Research, a bi-weekly journal.

Jalal Shayegan and colleagues point out that existing processes for refining so-called "heavy," or high-sulfur, crude oil convert sulfur to hydrogen sulfide gas at high temperatures and pressures. However, they leave behind some kinds of sulfur-based compounds, which wind up in gasoline and other fuels. Scientists long have known that certain microbes can remove sulfur from oil. But nobody had tried using these microbes in so-called biodesulfurization of heavy crude oil until now, they indicate.

In the new study, the scientists describe isolation and testing of the first fungus capable of removing sulfur from heavy crude oil. The fungus, called Stachybotrys, removed 65-76 percent of the sulfur present in certain heavy crude oil from two different oil fields. The process does not need high temperatures and high-energy consumption because it occurs slightly above room temperature, they scientists note.

Industrial & Engineering Chemistry Research: "Study of the First Isolated Fungus Capable of Heavy Crude Oil Biodesulfurization".


Water shortages pose challenges and opportunities for industry

Just as a credit crunch is reshaping the global economic landscape, an often-unheralded shortage of clean water is confronting business and industry with a range of profound new challenges and opportunities, according to an article scheduled for the October 6 issue of Chemical & Engineering News, ACS' weekly news magazine.

The cover story, written by C&EN Senior Business Editor Melody Voith, points out that big industrial companies, such as Dow Chemical, General Electric, Nalco, and Ashland, must manage day-to-day operations in ways that conserve and reuse water. Once regarded as a cheap and inexhaustible resource, clean water increasingly is in short supply around the world, Voith explains, noting that lack of clean water is "a growing risk" to industry.

"There is just no replacement for good, clean water - and it is getting harder to come by," Voith states. At the same time, companies that supply water purification and conservation technology are taking advantage of new opportunities. The articles explain how companies are investing in new technologies to meet the evolving demand for water treatment chemicals, services, and equipment.

Chemical & Engineering News: "The Other Scarce Resource".

Chemistry news archive 2008 - ordered by month














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