ChemWeb Newsletter

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This week the alcohol says "cheers" to old beer, digs some heavy metal, ponders shades of green, finds a new, old wonder material, sheds light on wavicles and sends out congratulations on an arsenic award.




What did beer taste like back in the day? Not back in the day of your youth, but back in the heyday of sailing ships that navigated the high seas at the dawn of the Industrial Revolution? Brian Gibson and colleagues have now analysed the oldest known preserved beer samples, discovered in 2010 by divers on an old schooner that sank to the bottom of the Baltic Sea near Finland in the 1840s. The beer was diluted with salt water, but it contained enough of the original ingredients for the researchers at VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland Ltd. and the Technical University of Munich to analyze and get an idea of the initial recipe. Unfortunately the Baltic had also got into the bottles so the beer tasted of goaty, vinegar and sour milk. Nevertheless, remnants of the organic components of the beer revealed it to be not dissimilar to modern beers. A pint of Victorian goat ale anyone?





Cadmium is well known as a toxic metal, it accumulates in the food chain and has a range of toxic effects on different organisms. Exposure can occur due to poor disposal of industrial or electronics waste, through cigarette smoke or ingestion of contaminated food. Now, a team at the University of Adelaide, Australia, has shown how cadmium disrupts the transport of the essential metals manganese and zinc into and out of cells. “Cadmium is a very important industrial metal, but exposure to it results in accumulation in the food chain, leading to toxicity in animals and humans,” explains Christopher McDevitt. "We've shown, in a model bacterial system, that the chemistry of cadmium allows it to bypass the mechanisms that prevent other metals, such as iron and zinc, from freely entering cells," he adds. Cadmium is not used in biology, with one rare exception, so there are no systems in our bodies for handling this element. This new research could ultimately lead to a novel therapy for cadmium toxicity.





Electric vehicles might reduce local pollution but unless the energy used to charge them is from sustainable and renewable energy sources rather than burning fossil fuels, then the benefits may not outweigh their negative consequences, globally speaking. Now, Canadian researchers have calculated a threshold - about 600 tonnes per gigawatthour- above which switching to so-called eco products will take some of the sheen off the green. They suggest that for electrification to lower emissions, whether cars, high-speed trains or other systems, the energy and emissions costs of building and maintain the systems has to be lower than the costs of simply burning fossil fuels as we have done for almost two centuries to power our industries and vehicles.





Novel materials with great optical and electronic promise seem to have emerged more and more frequently in recent years. The latest on that list is a crystalline form of the element phosphorus, known as black phosphorus. Researchers from the University of Minnesota have tested ultrathin black phosphorus films, just 20 atomic layers thick, and have demonstrate high-speed data communication in nanoscale optical circuits. They suggest this is a vast improvement on the efficiency of comparable devices that used one of those earlier wonder materials, graphene. Of course, black phosphorus has been known for more than a century, but its optical and semiconductor properties have only been recognised and now realized practically very recently.





At the heart of quantum mechanics is the duality of light - at once both wave and particle. Now, researchers at the École polytechnique fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL) have for the first time captured this duality in an image. Ultraviolet light hitting a metal surface leads to the emission of electrons, the well-exploited photoelectric effect described by Einstein. Now, EPFL's Fabrizio Carbone has inverted this effect using electrons to image light. The researchers fired a stream of electrons close to a metal nanowire bathed in laser light and were able to image the standing wave of light while at the same time detecting the photons through the quantum interaction of the electrons with individual photons. “Being able to image and control quantum phenomena at the nanometer scale like this opens up a new route towards quantum computing," Carbone adds.





Jörg Feldmann of the University of Aberdeen, who heads the University's Trace Element Speciation Laboratory (TESLA) , is this year's recipient of the 2015 European Award for Plasma Spectrochemistry given for continued important contributions in the field. Feldmann's work focuses on developing analytical methods to help ensure that arsenic contamination of rice and rice-based products is kept below the safety threshold. The approach developed by Feldmann and TESLA is set to be incorporated into European food safety law.