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The Alchemist Newsletter: October 14, 2009

by chemweb last modified 10-16-09 03:00 AM
The Alchemist - October 14, 2009
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October 14, 2009


issue overview
inorganic: It "is" rocket science, Alice!
astrochemistry: Water on the moon
polymer: Macroscopic macromolecules
nano: Atomic insulation
analytical: Cancer chip
awards: Ribosome reward




A spot of synchronicity this week with the development of rocket-powered chemistry based on water and aluminum powder meshing neatly with the discovery of water on the moon. While, Harvard chemists are taking macromolecules to the truly macro scale to help them understand polymer folding. In Japan, nano scientists have found a way to insulate their wiring using carbon nanotubes and vaporized metal while a highly sensitive breast cancer detection chip is on the horizon in Europe. Finally, crystal clear chemistry earns a Nobel Prize for X-ray studies of the cell's protein factory, the ribosome.

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It "is" rocket science, Alice!

A rocket fuel made from a frozen blend of water and aluminum nanoparticles has been developed by researchers at Purdue University. The propellant produces less pollution than other forms of rocket fuel and could be produced in situ on the Moon, Mars, or other off-planet sites in the solar system. The aluminum ice - ALICE - could also be used to generate fuel for fuel cells aboard long-distant spacecraft or an extraterrestrial base. The Purdue team is working with NASA, the Air Force Office of Scientific Research and Pennsylvania State University and has already employed ALICE to launch a 3-metre rocket.

arrowNew aluminum-water rocket propellant promising for future space missions

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Water on the moon

At the time of writing, NASA was on the verge of colliding a spacecraft with a crater of the moon in order to analyze the chemistry of matter at the darkest depths of the surface. But, earlier, scientists had studied data from India's Chandrayaan-1 probe and the Deep Impact and Cassini missions to see if they could spot water on the moon. The researchers, in India and the US, analyzed the reflectance spectra to determine the content of minerals in the thin layer of upper soil on the surface of the moon. The data revealed the presence of chemical bonds between hydrogen and oxygen atoms, which they say are indicative of hydroxy ions, which in the presence of protons from the solar wind are likely to form water molecules in situ.

arrowMoon river?

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Macroscopic macromolecules

Harvard University's George Whitesides suggests that the beads on a string model of polymers is incomplete and so has turned to actual beads and actual pieces of string to prove his point and to fill in the gaps in the polymer model. Writing in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Whiteside explains how a model built from electrostatically charged plastic beads on a length of cord can be made to behave in a way that is more reminiscent of true polymer folding than other models. By using different shaped beads and different spacers between them, the Harvard team could model different types of polymer successfully.

arrowBeads on a string - literally!

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Atomic insulation

Nanoscopic wires will likely be key components of a future generation of sub-microelectronic devices. Japanese researchers, Ryo Kitaura and Hisanori Shinohara, now report a simple approach to creating insulated wires by depositing metal atoms inside carbon nanotubes. Writing in the journal Angewandte Chemie, the team explains that individual atoms line up side-by-side and so are well protected by their nanotube sheath leading to long-term stability. The approach works for any metal that can be readily vaporized at relatively low temperature, including europium, samarium, ytterbium, and strontium.

arrowAtomic Wire with Protective Sheath

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Cancer chip

A lab-on-chip system that incorporates complex sample preparation steps and multiplexed detection is being implemented for fast breast cancer detection and therapy by researchers at Interuniversity Microelectronics Centre (IMEC) in and Institüt für Mikrotechnik Mainz, Germany. The components of the device are ripe for further miniaturization and integration into a single platform device ready for imminent clinical trials in Oslo, Norway. The chip will offer doctors a way to carry out circulating tumor diagnostics in breast cancer patients undergoing early or advanced phase during therapy and be able to detect even just 2 to 3 tumor cells in a 5 ml blood sample.

arrowBreakthrough in lab-on-chip for fast cancer detection and therapy

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Ribosome reward

Ada Yonath is the first woman scientist to win the Nobel Prize for Chemistry since Dorothy Hodgkin in 1964. Yonath of the Weizmann Institute of Science, Rehovot, Israel, shares the 2009 Prize with Venkatraman Ramakrishnan, of the MRC Laboratory of Molecular Biology, in Cambridge, England, and Thomas A. Steitz, of Yale University, New Haven, CT, USA, "for studies of the structure and function of the ribosome". Ribosomes produce proteins, which in turn control the chemistry in all living organisms. All three of this year's recipients used X-ray crystallography to determine the detailed structure of the ribosome a key step in understanding its form and function and how knowledge of this cellular component might be targeted by biomedical research.

arrowThe Nobel Prize in Chemistry 2009

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