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A microscopic award kicks off The Alchemist this week, with a US chemist receiving a prestigious nomination for work on analytical microfluidics. On the physical computational side of chemistry, we discover just how buckyballs shake, rattle, and roll when they are on a metal surface, and tune into a nanoscopic radio demodulator constructed from carbon nanotubes and wired up to an Apple iPod. Near-infrared spectroscopy has been shown to be more sensitive than conventional mammography in the fight against breast cancer with the aid of contrast agents that can be synthesized more readily thanks to Harvard scientists. Also, this week revelations about a viral enzyme that could ultimately explain how you got your mother's eyes but missed out on your father's height. Finally, researchers in Portugal and at chemical company Solvay explain how innovation within the industry might be retrieved through the mapping of knowledge.




A novel class of contrast agents for near-infrared spectroscopy could reveal microscopic deposits of calcium salts in breast tissue and so diagnose the early signs of imminent breast cancer much sooner and more effectively than conventional mammography. Kumar Bhushan, Eiichi Tanaka, and John Frangioni at Harvard Medical School in Boston, Massachusetts have developed a simplified, efficient synthesis of 3-amino tetramethyl 1-hydroxypropylidenebisphosphonate (a methylester-protected pamidronate), which could make NIR a much more sensitive diagnostic tool than mammography. The compound is also specific to the presence of calcium hydroxyapatite, which occurs in malignancy, as opposed to calcium oxalate, which is present in benign tissue.





The X-ray crystal structure of the viral enzyme T7 endonuclease 1, which splits the DNA double helix into individual strands, could help explain how nature combines both maternal and paternal DNA to create genetically unique offspring and why you inherited your motherÕs smile but not your fatherÕs height? The work of Simon Phillips, Stephen Carr and Jonathan Hadden of Leeds University and David Lilley of Dundee University is the first step in explaining such puzzles as how a person you can inherit their mother's smile but not their father's height. The next step is to reproduce the study in a more complex organism than a virus, a yeast, say. Phillips says it will be some time before this process can be observed in humans. "It's too important a discovery to rush," he says.





An examination of how innovation occurs within the chemical industry based on activities within the Portuguese branch of a multinational chemical company, has led to a map of knowledge bases used in the search for innovative, new products. Despite appearances to the contrary, large multinational companies can have a decisive role in the innovation process, the researchers at the Technical University of Lisbon, Portugal, and Solvay in Brussels, Belgium explain, they can do so by providing their market expertise to entrepreneurs.





The 2007 Masao Horiba Award goes to Chris Culbertson, a chemist at Kansas State University, for his work on microfluidic devices. The award is named for the founder of Horiba Ltd., a company that manufactures, sells and markets measurement and analysis tools used in fields ranging from medical diagnostics and automotive emissions to the semiconductor industry. Culbertson's project was one of three chosen from among 29 nominations. The winners were selected for the future potential of the researcher, originality of the research and the possibility of the research being developed into unique measurement instruments.





A detailed molecular dynamics simulation of how the soccerball molecule, C60 moves on a metal surface has been undertaken by Francesco Zerbetto and Gilberto Teobaldi and colleagues at the University of Bologna (Italy) and the University of Liverpool (UK). Buckyballs spin and bounce on the surface, say the researchers, and show an intercage rattling motion that resembles billiard balls in a partly filled roll-a-rack triangle.





A tiny radio built from carbon nanotubes and wired up to an Apple iPod has been demonstrated by US scientists. Just when you thought electronic music gadgets couldn't get any smaller, Peter Burke of the University of California at Irvine, points out that the team has only demonstrated the critical component - an AM demodulator - that converts the radio signal into an electrical audio signal but it is conceivable that the other necessary components for a complete radio could be made on the nanoscale, thus allowing a truly nanoscale wireless communications system.