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The Alchemist Newsletter: November 14, 2007

by chemweb last modified 03-20-09 08:08 AM
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Not a subscriber? Join now.November 14, 2007

issue overview
grants and awards: Kinetic fellowship
biomimetics: Eight-legged materials
neurochem: Trusting chemical
analytical: Superbug, meet kryptonite
physical: The microscopic superhighway
materials: Doubling up on birefringence



Argonne National Laboratory's peerless kinetic chemist Joe Michael achieved fellowship of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, The Alchemist hears this week, while in research news cephalopod camouflage is providing scientists with new ideas for creating novel materials. Also, in the news this issue, the chemical of motherly love, oxytocin, turns out to be all about generosity too. Nanotechnology, we learn, could turn its hand to detecting superbugs and possibly finding new antibiotics to fight MRSA, while physical rewards abound for those who have adapted the scanning tunneling microscope to work at 100 to 1000 faster than ever before. Finally, a new coordination polymer has been developed capable of producing a very high level of birefringence, or dual focus of light.

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Kinetic fellowship

Senior Argonne chemist Joe Michael has been named as an AAAS Fellow. The commendation, voted for by peers within the Association, is given for Michael's distinguished contributions to the field of chemical kinetics, particularly for his development of the application of shock-tube techniques for high-temperature studies. The majority of his research has important practical application in combustion and atmospheric chemistry.

Argonne chemist Joe V. Michael awarded distinction of AAAS Fellow

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Eight-legged materials

Cephalopod camouflage could inspire new materials research, according to Roger Hanlon and his colleagues at Marine Biological Laboratory at Woods Hole, Massachusetts. They are studying the colorful chemical camouflage techniques used by octopus, cuttlefish, and squid in hunting and avoid being hunted. Cephalopod skin has three camouflage layers, an inner layer of light-scattering leucophore cells that reflect ambient light, a middle layer containing highly pigmented cells chromatophores that can be distorted to reveal different colored patterns and an outer iridophore layer that reflects colors giving rise to blue, green, gold, and silver shades. Hanlon and his colleagues are studying the molecular mechanisms involved with a view to mimicking the cephalopods in novel materials.

Hide And Seek

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Trusting chemical

If you are in a giving mood, it could be down to a neurotransmitter than your natural generous nature, particularly, if your kindness is directed to someone you are unlikely to meet again. Paul Zak of Claremont Graduate University has found new evidence linking the compound oxytocin to trust and generosity. Zak and colleagues dosed volunteers with oxytocin or a placebo in a blinded trial and then asked them to share out a sum of money with a stranger. The results were overwhelming, the researchers say, those given oxytocin offered 80% more money than those given a placebo. Oxytocin is well known as a female "feel-good" female neurotransmitter linked closely with mother to baby bonding.

Empathy and Oxytocin Lead to Greater Generosity

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Superbug, meet kryptonite

University of Idaho researchers are taking a new approach to detect new resistant pathogens, such as multiple (formerly methicillin) resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA). Wusi Maki and colleagues have developed nanoelectronic biosensors that take just three hours instead of three days to spot resistant bacteria. The system could eventually replace the conventional culture dish and chemiluminescence detection. "Our electronic detection capability is approximately 1000 times more sensitive than the chemiluminescence technologies currently being used in clinical laboratories," says Maki.

Developing kryptonite for Superbug

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The microscopic superhighway

A new approach to scanning tunneling microscopy (STM) has allowed Cornell and Boston University researchers to image individual atoms 100 to 1000 times faster than before. The STM uses quantum tunneling, or the ability of electrons to "tunnel" across a barrier, to detect changes in the distance between a needlelike probe and a conducting surface. Now, Cornell's Keith Schwab and colleagues have added a simple external radio source, which they can use in reflectometry measurements to obtain the distance between the probe and a sample surface much faster than is possible with a standard STM. The setup could be used to measure the precise temperature of particular atom on a surface and to detect movements 30,000 times smaller than a single atom.

Physicist's innovative technique makes atomic-level microscopy at least 100 times faster

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Doubling up on birefringence

One of the most birefringent solid materials known has been produced by researchers at Simon Fraser University in Canada using a coordination polymer based on the terpyridine ligand and the anisotropic, linear dicyanoaurate anion, rather than a mineral like calcite. Daniel Leznoff and Zuo-Guang Ye point out that the modular nature of coordination polymers offers great scope for fine-tuning their optical properties for particular applications, such as dual-focus lenses for optical disk readers. "The ability to judiciously choose a metal center, a chelating ligand, and a bridging ligand to tailor the overall physical and optical properties of the resulting polymer affords an exceptional design freedom in materials science," the researchers say.

Tailored for Optical Applications

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-- David Bradley, Science Journalist



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