Saturday, May 30, 2015

Carbon nanotubes grown in combustion flames

An international research team’s theoretical simulation of the synthesis of single-walled carbon nanotubes has revealed important details of the mechanisms at play. This could lead to better ways to control the production of carbon nanotubes.

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Friday, May 29, 2015

Constructing complex molecules with atomic precision

Researchers have developed a waste-free and cost-effective approach for preparing complex organic molecules and revealing the physical nature of the processes that control the direction of chemical transformations.

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New 'designer carbon' boosts battery performance

Scientists have created a new carbon material that significantly improves the performance of batteries and supercapacitors.

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'Green chemistry' to quantify the components of cosmetics

There are 10,000 components that can be used to make cosmetics. These components have to be monitored to guarantee consumer safety. Scientists have now developed three 'green' analytical methods to simultaneously analyze various components used in cosmetics. In these methods very little solvent is used and very little residue is produced in comparison with other analytical techniques.

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Thursday, May 28, 2015

Using recovery methods, oil production in Mexico would increase by nearly 800 thousand barrels per day

Mexico has a wide range of oil fields; however, most of them are mature which makes it difficult to maintain oil production. Given this, advanced and improved recovery methods should be implemented to increase reserves and production of supplies in the country, an expert suggests.

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Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Chemists discover key reaction mechanism behind the highly touted sodium-oxygen battery

Chemists have discovered the key reaction that takes place in sodium-air batteries that could pave the way for development of the so-called holy grail of electrochemical energy storage.

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Like Sleeping Beauty, some research lies dormant for decades, study finds

A new study explores 'sleeping beauties,' research papers that remain dormant for years and then suddenly explode with great impact upon the scientific community. A prime example is a seminal paper by Albert Einstein, Boris Podolsky and Nathan Rosen that laid out the "EPR Paradox," a major puzzle in quantum entanglement theory in which particles with past interaction remain linked in their behavior no matter their distance, including across a galaxy. The new research found that that paper, published in 1935, didn't receive widespread citation until 1994.

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There’s something interesting brewing…

There’s something interesting brewing over at the Royal Society of Chemistry.

They’ve been beavering away trying to figure out what the (UK) public thinks for chemistry, chemicals and chemists.

Results are out on Monday 1st June via a live-stream. Be sure to tune in and join in the conversation on twitter with the #Chemperceptions hashtag.

And of course we’ll have all the analysis right here.

 

 



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Linking superconductivity and structure

Superconductivity is a rare physical state in which matter is able to conduct electricity -- maintain a flow of electrons -- without any resistance. It can only be found in certain materials, and even then it can only be achieved under controlled conditions of low temperatures and high pressures. New research homes in on the structural changes underlying superconductivity in iron arsenide compounds -- those containing iron and arsenic.

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Tuesday, May 26, 2015

On-demand X-rays at synchrotron light sources

Researchers have developed an 'X-rays on demand' technique in which ALS users can have access to the X-ray beams they want without affecting beams for other users.

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New chip makes testing for antibiotic-resistant bacteria faster, easier

We live in fear of 'superbugs': infectious bacteria that don't respond to treatment by antibiotics, and can turn a routine hospital stay into a nightmare. Now, researchers have designed a diagnostic chip to reduce testing time of antibiotics from days to one hour, allowing doctors to pick the right antibiotic the first time.

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Who needs water to assemble DNA? Non-aqueous solvent supports DNA nanotechnology

Researchers have now shown that they can assemble DNA nanostructures in a solvent containing no water. They also discovered that adding a small amount of water to their solvent increases the assembly rate and provides a new means for controlling the process. The solvent may also facilitate the production of more complex structures by reducing the problem of DNA becoming trapped in unintended structures.

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Carbon nanothreads from compressed benzene

The thinnest possible linear thread that still retains a diamond-like structure was created by the extreme compression and decompression of the common chemical benzene. The threads may have outstanding mechanical and electronic properties. Further, the synthesis method opens up possible variations that could lead to new materials.

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Monday, May 25, 2015

One step closer to a single-molecule device

A new technique to create a single-molecule diode has been developed by scientists, and, in doing so, they have developed molecular diodes that perform 50 times better than all prior designs. This research group is the first to develop a single-molecule diode that may have real-world technological applications for nanoscale devices.

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Laser technique for low-cost self-assembly of nanostructures

A low-cost technique that holds promise for a range of scientific and technological applications has been developed by scientists. They have combined laser printing and capillary force to build complex, self-assembling microstructures using a technique called laser printing capillary-assisted self-assembly (LPCS).

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Friday, May 22, 2015

Implantable micro-device to monitor oxygen in glioma to improve treatment outcomes

Monitoring oxygen levels in human tumors growing in a mouse brain using EPR oximetry with implantable resonators provides opportunities to evaluate and optimize various strategies being developed to improve oxygen levels in the glioma.

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Thursday, May 21, 2015

New chemical technology boosts potency of targeted cancer therapy

A new chemical technology uses cancer cells' own protein-degrading machinery to destroy, rather than merely inhibit, cancer proteins. Researchers developed the strategy as a way to develop inhibitors of "undruggable" proteins and overcome drug resistance, a common shortcoming of targeted therapies. Resistance arises when tumors that originally responded to a particular therapy manage to circumvent the drug's effects and resume their growth.

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Modern alchemy: Chemists devise synthesis of valuable exotic compounds

A broad and strikingly inexpensive method for synthesizing "amines," a class of organic compounds prominent in drugs and other modern products, has been discovered by a group of chemists. The new reaction is particularly useful for synthesizing complex amines that would be highly valuable in pharmaceuticals, but are impractical -- or impossible -- to make with standard methods.

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Shining light on the fleeting interactions of single molecules

Scientists have devised a way of directly detecting and visualizing biomolecules and their changing association states in solution by measuring their size and charge characteristics while confined in a single-molecule trap.

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Modern alchemy: Chemists devise synthesis of valuable exotic compounds

A broad and strikingly inexpensive method for synthesizing “amines,” a class of organic compounds prominent in drugs and other modern products, has been discovered by a group of chemists. The new reaction is particularly useful for synthesizing complex amines that would be highly valuable in pharmaceuticals, but are impractical -- or impossible -- to make with standard methods.

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My Extra Credit Assignment: Turn a General Chemistry Topic into a Science Museum Exhibit

When traveling, I always make a point to explore local science museums. I look for engaging exhibits that explain scientific concepts in informative and fun ways. One such exhibit at the Science Museum of Minnesota asks participants to create carbon nanotubes using foam connectors. A few friends and I used our advanced degrees to produce the example shown below (sorry for the potato quality).

The exhibit engaged people of all ages in different ways. Just behind the exhibit you can see the little guy who, moments after the picture was taken, learned all about tearing carbon nanotubes apart while deploying a rather impressive Godzilla impression.

Nanotube

Since becoming a teacher I have a new appreciation for science museum exhibits. They are a literal manifestation of Einstein’s philosophy: “If you can’t explain it to a six year old, you don’t understand it yourself.” The best exhibits make the explanation entertaining too.

So, towards the end of this spring semester when my general chemistry students requested an extra credit assignment, I knew exactly what to assign. I asked them to take one of the concepts they learned in general chemistry and create a science museum exhibit to explain it.

The assignment allowed unlimited space and budget. I was less concerned about reality and much more interested in seeing their knowledge and creativity. In the end I was blown away by their creations and would like to share a few.

Dipole-dipole Board-

Dipole-dipole

The above exhibit, created by Taylor Trammell, showcases intermolecular dipole-dipole interactions. Her display contains many magnets–representing molecules–with two opposing sides, one positively charged (north pole) and one negatively charged (south pole). All of the magnets/molecules are free to rotate, except for one. Museum visitors can press a button and control the orientation of that one ‘molecule’. As it’s orientation changes, the other ‘molecules’ will reorientation to maximize dipole-dipole interactions and minimize the energy within the solvent.

A visitor could also walk up to the board with a strong bar magnet and introduce only it’s north or south pole of the magnet-filled board. That would represent the solvation of cations or anions through ion-dipole interactions. Taylor may not know it, but she found a fun way to introduce the solvent reorganization associated with Marcus Electron Transfer Theory.

Collision Theory Booth-

According to the Collision Theory of Reactivity, for a chemical reaction to occur the molecules must: 1) collide, 2) have enough energy to make and break bonds, and 3) have the correct orientation when they collide. Emily Nabong demonstrates these rules of engagement through a museum exhibit that repurposes an amusement park throwing booth. Instead of milk jugs or balloons, the target is a Velcro-covered molecule. And instead of baseballs or darts, visitors throw ‘molecules’ with different geometries and Velcro coverage at the target.

If the molecule is thrown with too little momentum or too little accuracy it will not hit the board (collide). Also, if the molecule hits the board with the wrong Velcro alignment it won’t ‘stick’ (correct orientation). The ‘reaction’ will only occur if the molecule is thrown hard enough and with the right orientation.

Collision

Amorphous vs Crystalline Solids

Miranda Ave introduced an interactive “build your own solid” exhibit that demonstrates the difference between amorphous and crystalline solids. It’s comprised of two building stations. The first station offers Magnetix (below left), which have curved connectors representing bonds and metal spheres representing atoms. The second station offers Tinker Toys (below right) with only one rod length (bonds) and wood circles that connect at 90° positions (atoms).

Solids

Any structure built with the Magnetix will lack long-range order like in an amorphous solid. In contrast, a structure built with the restricted connectivity of the Tinker Toys will have a continuous, repeating pattern like those observed in crystalline solids.

Tearing apart these structures will also help demonstrate differences between amorphous and crystalline solids. Tinker Toys break apart in a ridged manner along cleavage lines while Magnetix structures break in random places.

The building station will also be accompanied by a display with both crystalline and amorphous solids as well as an atomic picture of their structures.

Viscosity Race

Both Gabby Vega (below left) and Erum Kidwai (below right) proposed races between liquids to demonstrate differences in viscosity. They envisioned racetracks with several lanes, each labeled with a molecular structure. Museum goers would pick their ‘horse’ or lane and then watch as liquids ‘race’ down the track. Afterwards, each solution would be unveiled and the intermolecular forces dictating the viscosity and flow rates of the liquids would be explained.

Viscosity

Boyle, Lussac and Avogadro -

Jessica Metzger’s museum exhibit set out to teach people about the relationship between temperature, volume, number of moles of a gas, and pressure. She proposed three different interactive stations. The first (left) contains a cylinder connected to a pressure gauge with a plunger that can be pushed or pulled. When the plunger is pushed (or pulled) and the pressure increases (or decreases), the reading on the pressure gauge will increase (or decrease) just as predicted by Boyle’s law.

The second cylinder (middle) is completely enclosed and placed on top of a heating element. When the visitors press the button a red light will turn on indicating that the chamber is being heated. As the temperature increases, the pressure will increase in accordance with Lussac’s law.

The third cylinder (right) will be taller than the other two with a lid that can move up or down without allowing gas molecules to escape. The station will be equipped with a button that, when pushed, releases compressed air into the cylinder. So, when the button is pressed, the metal lid will move up and increase the cylinder’s volume to accommodate the newly introduced gas molecules (Avogadro’s Law).

PV = nRT

Electronegativity and polarity -

Carolin Hoeflich proposed an exhibit to introduce the concept of electronegativity and polarity. The exhibit includes a table with a soft foam cover and blocks representing the elements. The blocks are weighted so that electronegative elements are heavier. Museum-goers can arrange the blocks into molecular structures before dumping marbles–representing electrons–onto the table’s surface. The heavier elements will sink deeper into the foam and therefore ‘attract’ a larger number of marbles. When stepping back and looking at the structure as a whole, museum-goers will see that more marbles = more electronegativity. It’s also a fun way to visualize the dipole moment of a structure.

Electronegativity

Osmosis touch screen-

Hunter Hamilton introduced a touch screen exhibit to demonstrate the principles of osmosis and osmotic pressure. Visitors will use the screen to create an environment with more or less ions (red spheres) and one of three possible ‘membrane’ options: 1) no membrane, 2) permeable to water but not ions, and 3) permeable to water and ions. Once all selections are made, the visitors presses GO and observes which direction water and ions move in their environment.

Osmosis

Le Ch√Ętelier’s Principle-

Another touch screen exhibit, by Kelly Wyland, covers Le Ch√Ętelier’s Principle. Her screen displays an equilibrium with colors assigned to the reactants and products. It then asks users to predict the color change upon perturbation. After a prediction is made, the screen will show an animation that adds or removes reagents from the reaction mixture’s beaker. The color change of the solution will coincide with the concentration shifts to reach equilibrium.

LCP

Reaction Coordinate Slide -

I’ve saved the largest and most interactive exhibit for last. Nathan Horvat designed an exhibit with two slides that represent an exothermic and endothermic reaction coordinate diagrams. Children (maybe adults?) would start on the platform in the middle (as reactants) and climb one of two ladders representing the activation energy to the transition state before sliding down to the landing pads (products).

The ladder/slide to the left (or right) is for an endothermic (or exothermic) reaction because the end point is higher (or lower) in energy than the starting point. One thing that I found fun about this exhibit is that, while viewing it in action, you’d likely notice more children choosing the exothermic slide because the endothermic one requires more work for less return. In a statistical fashion, the children would find the product that’s more thermodynamically favorable.

rxn coord

 

 

 



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Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Mesoporous particles for the development of drug delivery system safe to human bodies

Scientists have succeeded in developing porous particles (mesoporous particles) consisting solely of phospholipids, a biological component, that are suitable for use as a drug delivery system.

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Energy harvesting? Measuring thermoelectric behavior by 'tinkertoy' materials

Researchers have made the first measurements of thermoelectric behavior by a nanoporous metal-organic framework (MOF), a development that could lead to an entirely new class of materials for such applications as cooling computer chips and cameras and energy harvesting.

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Nature inspires first artificial molecular pump

Using nature for inspiration, scientists have developed an entirely artificial molecular pump, in which molecules pump other molecules. The machine mimics the pumping mechanism of proteins that move small molecules around living cells to metabolize and store energy from food. The pump draws its power from chemical reactions, driving molecules step-by-step from a low-energy state to a high-energy state. The pump one day might be used to power other molecular machines, such as artificial muscles, researchers say.

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Amazing microdroplet structures may lead to new technologies

Unexpected shapes of mesoscale atoms -- structures built of microdroplets encapsulated within microdroplets -- have now been created. The discovery was possible with a new method for precise control over placement of tiny segments of liquid, one in another. With further progress in innovative microfluidic systems, the method may find use in medicine and materials science.

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New portable device could test how 'squishy' cancerous tumors are

A new device will test a tumor's squishiness (Young's modulus), providing clinicians insight into how best to treat it. Preliminary testing has found that in general, more aggressive tumors are stiffer, but the complex relationship will require more research, according to the engineers.

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More cycling with e-bikes

Electric bikes make people cycle longer and more often, a new study concludes, adding that the effect is best on women. A new study focused on how people use the electric bike and how the electric bike may contribute to a decrease in motor traffic.

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Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Fresh milk, off the grid

Milk preservation depends upon refrigeration and boiling, but in developing countries these methods are costly and often impractical due to the sporadic availability of continuous electricity. New research now finds that short pulsed electric fields can be used to kill milk-contaminating bacteria. This process can prevent bacteria proliferation in stored milk, potentially increasing its shelf life.

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Researchers develop liquid-crystal-based compound lenses that work like insect eyes

Researchers have shown how liquid crystals can be employed to create compound lenses similar to those found in nature. Taking advantage of the geometry in which these liquid crystals like to arrange themselves, the researchers are able to grow compound lenses with controllable sizes.

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Real and 3-D printed shells ability to withstand pressure

Engineers analyzed seashells to see how their shapes contribute to their remarkable strength. By modeling the average mollusk's mobile habitat, they are learning how shells stand up to extraordinary pressures at the bottom of the sea. The goal is to learn what drove these tough exoskeletons to evolve as they did and to see how their mechanical principles may be adapted for use in human-scale structures like vehicles and even buildings.

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A tale of a tired lecture course. Flip it.




It dawned on me that no one cared. The proteins that I found so fascinating just didn’t seem to intrigue them as much as they did me. I thought the video of water molecules flipping as they passed through the channel of aquaporin was marvellous. But it hardly gleaned a reaction from the sea of faces staring blankly out at me. 

Screen Shot 2015-05-19 at 14.42.33

I left the lecture theatre and trudged back to my office. Wondering what was to be done with the course I’d tinkered with for years and never been happy with. Maybe it was time to just stop tinkering, throw it all away and start afresh?

The thought drifted away as I flicked through the, not insignificant, pile of emails that had dropped into my mail box during my brief absence from my desk. Top of the list was request to review a grant proposal.

And then inspiration struck, I could get my students to write grant proposals! That way they could explore the ideas and material that they are interested in without having my predilection for Major Intrinsic Proteins foisted on them.

So I set about a total revamping of the course.

  • The lectures slides went in the bin.

Well actually they got turned into screencasts. But they might as well have gone in the bin, because the students don’t watch them.

  • I gave the students examples of grant proposals that I’d written (ones that had got good reviews, even if they hadn’t been funded :-( ).
  • I supplied them with a load of references to papers that contained neat ideas.
  • And I gave a lecture with avenues of research that I thought were intriguing.
  • Then I provided them with a slightly altered version of a research council’s form and told them to complete it i.e they had to write a case for support, lay summary, justification for resources etc.
  • They worked in groups of 6-7 and set about their tasks.
  • The rest of the lectures I turned up to check on how things were going, guide the projects, tell them what I thought might work or not etc.
  • And come the end of the course I marked the proposals based on genuine research council criteria AND each group peer reviewed 3 other proposals using the same criteria. Group members also gave an effort mark to each other (so free loaders didn’t get an easy ride). And the final mark was made up from an amalgamation of my mark, the peer review and the inter-group mark.

The results were great. Some really fabulous ideas sprung up. I’ve had students ask me if they can actually work on their research projects during their final year dissertations, and I bet some of proposals would have made the quality cut off in real funding rounds.

Right, enough from me, I’ve just come across a great idea for a project I need to get into the next funding round. ;-)



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Monday, May 18, 2015

New chemical catalysts are less expensive, more sustainable

Chemists have helped develop a family of new chemical catalysts that are expected to lower the cost and boost the sustainability of the production of chemical compounds used by a number of industries.

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How microbes acquire electricity in making methane

Scientists have solved a long-standing mystery about methanogens, unique microorganisms that transform electricity and carbon dioxide into methane. The results could pave the way for microbial 'factories' that produce renewable biofuels and chemicals.

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Wearables may get boost from boron-infused graphene

Flexible, wearable electronics may benefit from graphene microsupercapacitors infused with boron and made with a common laser.

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Nanomaterials in sunscreens and boats leave marine life vulnerable

Nanomaterials commonly used in sunscreens and boat-bottom paints are making sea urchin embryos more vulnerable to toxins, according to a new study. The authors said this could pose a risk to coastal, marine and freshwater environments.

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Friday, May 15, 2015

Used cigarette butts offer energy storage solution

Scientists have developed a new way to store energy that also offers a solution to a growing environmental problem.

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