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This week, The Alchemist calibrates his DNA thermometer, worries about washed out waste, finds a counterintuitive adaptive material, discovers a better way to boil and pins his alchemical hopes on an anti-aging vitamin. Finally, we report sad news of the death of one of the chemical greats, Harry Kroto.
A new study from the UK suggests that flooding, rising sea levels and storm surges could lead to the release of hazardous and potentially toxic chemicals from coast landfill sites given that modern regulations on recycling and safe disposal of metals, asbestos and other harmful waste were not in place at the time and older sites could hold all manner of problematic substances. Researchers from Queen Mary University of London explain that there are 1264 historical landfill sites in England and Wales that lie near the coast and well within the UK's Environment Agency’s Tidal Flood Zone 3. Erosion or tidal flooding could lead to the breaking open of these old landfill sites and the release of material that would take coastal waters and margins above tolerated environmental safety limits. The same problem should concern authorities around the world in the face of climate change.
A two-dimensional, adaptive material becomes thicker when stretched and when it is squeezed in one dimension it shrinks in the other rather than bulging. The adaptive protein crystal developed by scientists at the University of California San Diego could find applications in protective materials in sports, law enforcement and the military. The auxetic material is composed of an array of protein crystal tiles - the square-shaped protein Rhua - hooked together with strong, but flexible bonds.
A new way to control bubble formation during boiling could improve steam irons, industrial boilers and even advanced electronics devices, making them function more effectively and even last longer. Engineers at Oregon State University based their approach on the use of piezoelectric inkjet printing to pattern a surface with hydrophobic polymer dots and then applied a hydrophilic zinc oxide nanostructure, which deposits only in the area without dots. By controlling both the hydrophobic and hydrophilic structure of the material, bubble formation can be precisely controlled and manipulated, for heat dissipation in electronic circuits for instance or for a lower temperature steam in a clothing iron.
Evidence is slowly accumulating that nicotinamide riboside, closely related to vitamin B3, could have anti-aging properties, boost metabolic rate, increase insulin sensitivity and possibly lead to regeneration of elderly organ tissue. The latest study of this seeming panacea suggests that it rejuvenates stem cells, allowing better regeneration of tissues in elderly mice. Researchers from the Ecole Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne and colleagues in Brazil, Canada and Switzerland, used several markers to identify the molecular chain that regulates how mitochondria function and how they change with age. They then demonstrated in two-year old mice how they could modulate this process in a restorative way by administering nicotinamide riboside. They suggest that the compound may not only be anti-ageing but might also have benefits in muscular dystrophy (myopathy).
One of the most outstanding chemists and thinkers of the age, Harry Kroto died, aged 76 at the end of April. Kroto was a polymath, being chemist, designer, science communicator and much more. He will perhaps be best remembered for his Nobel Prize winning work alongside Robert Curl and the late Rick Smalley into the discovery of the fullerenes. The all-carbon, soccerball-shaped molecules, nicknamed buckyballs after Kroto's design hero Richard Buckminster Fuller. The discovery of the fullerenes ultimately gave rise to an entirely new field of chemical and materials science, spawning the carbon nanotubes and underpinning research that is now exploiting the two-dimensional carbon material, graphene.
Fragments of DNA have been pieced together to make a molecular thermometer that unfolds as things heat up to release fluorescent markers that appear only at a specific temperature. The devices could be used in cell studies or to monitor tiny temperature jumps in micro or even nano-systems. The molecular thermometers are the invention of Alexis Vallée-Bélisle and his colleagues at The University of Montreal, Canada. They can tune them to respond to a temperature change of just 0.05 degrees Celsius or to operate over a 50 degree range as required.