ChemWeb Newsletter

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US researchers have shone a golden glow over nanocatalysis, The Alchemist reports this week while botulin toxin has been found to smooth over scar tissue. Also this week, we hear of testing times for novel polymers destined for piezoelectric space telescopes and a novel drug is being mooted that the bird flu virus will find impossible to resist. Finally, The Alchemists learns of Harvard plans to put carbon dioxide to bed forever.

Researchers in the US have found a way to control the catalytic activity of gold nanoclusters more effectively. The team from Georgia Institute of Technology report in Physical Review Letters how the dimensionality and structure, and so the catalytic activity, of a gold nanocluster changes as the thickness of its supporting metal-oxide films is varied. "We've been searching for methods for controlling and tuning the nanocatalytic activity of gold nanoclusters," explains Uzi Landman. He believes the effect the team has discovered could open up new avenues for controlled nanocatalytic activity. "Until now, the metal substrate was regarded only as an experimental necessity for growing the magnesium oxide films on top of it," Landman adds, "Now we found that it can be used as a design feature of the catalytic system. This field holds many surprises."

Botulin toxin has gained a reputation as the face-tightening reagent of choice among those whose facial collagen is not quite as elastic as it once was. However, researchers at the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota have discovered that the deadly biological agent could be effective in treating facial wounds during the early healing phase and improve the appearance of the scar that forms subsequently. "Our findings show that botulin toxin offers an additional tool in preventing the formation of bad scars," explains Holger Gassner. The team published their findings in the August issue of Mayo Clinic Proceedings. The team found that injecting botulin toxin into a wound, whether dog bite, motor accident, or assault, or following a skin biopsy paralyzes the surrounding tissue. This creates a smooth surface in which the wound can heal more effectively without wrinkling. The same technique could be used to remove old, ugly scars and allow skin to heal smoothly in its place.

Mat Celina of Sandia National Laboratories has spent the last few years investigating the performance of various piezoelectric polymer films that could one day be used as ultra-lightweight mirrors for space telescopes. The team hopes to send an experimental package of promising polymers up to the Materials International Space Station Experiment (MISSE-6) to be launched into low Earth orbit (LEO) in 2007. "This will be the first time these polymers will be remotely operated in an actual space environment," Celina explains, "We hope to learn which polymer materials will work best in space. The materials will boldly go where they have not been before." The piezoelectric polymers are based on polyvinylidene fluoride (PVDF) and its copolymers and so far have not been used much in space because they degrade when exposed to atomic oxygen, solar ultraviolet, and extreme temperature variations. However, a metallic coating will protect the materials to be tested as space mirror films from the rigors of space.

A new drug to fight bird flu that should be able to side-step the emergence of viral resistance is being developed by Andrew Watts of the University of Bath, UK and Jennifer McKimm-Breschkin of CSIRO Australia. Both Tamiflu and Relenza, the two drugs currently being stockpiled by governments in preparation for a global outbreak of bird flu, are inherently susceptible to resistance because of the way they work. Although the new drug acts on the same target as these treatments, the enzyme neuraminidase, it targets a specific region of the enzyme that essential to its function. If this region mutates the virus would no longer be viable, so that resistance cannot emerge.

Sediments at the bottom of the world's oceans could be the final resting place of carbon dioxide in plans to reduce the atmospheric burden of this gaseous residue of burning fossil fuels, according to researchers at Harvard University. Kurt Zenz House and Daniel Schrag, along with colleagues at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Columbia University, have found that deep-sea sediments could be used as an almost bottomless sink for the gas, and estimate that sediments within US waters would be wholly adequate to sequester the nation's carbon dioxide emissions for thousands of years to come. The injection of carbon dioxide into ocean sediments hundreds of meters thick at the low temperature and high pressure of the ocean floor would make the carbon dioxide denser than the surrounding water and so ensure virtually permanent storage.