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The Alchemist could not fail to mention the nuclear highlight of the year as an international team fills the gap between elements 116 and 118 in the periodic table with a stupendous "transmutation" of berkelium bombarded with calcium ions into just six atoms of ununseptium. In biochemistry, we learn how flies can taste water and muse on the possibility of other animals, including ourselves, having a similar sense. We hear about a terminal improvement to photovoltaic solar cells and how to scrub colloidal coal. The Alchemist also digs up the history of polymer chemistry that has for the last two decades helped reduce the production of counterfeit money. Finally, a national award goes to a high school chemistry teacher who practices CPR on his students every lesson.

Scientists from Russia and USA have made just six atoms of element 117, ununseptium, filling the gap between the previously discovered 116 and 118. 117 is a decay product of radioactive berkelium bombarded with calcium ions. "This [research] demonstrates the fundamental importance of scientists from different nations and institutions working together to address complex scientific challenges," Thom Mason, Director of Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) says. The discovery team included scientists from the Joint Institute of Nuclear Research (Dubna, Russia), the Research Institute for Advanced Reactors (Dimitrovgrad), Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, Vanderbilt University, and the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, and ORNL.

A new understanding our sense of taste could hinge on research into a newly discovered ion channel protein that helps fruit flies sense water. Kristin Scott and colleagues at the University of California, Berkeley have identified a channel in the taste neurons of the straw-like snout of fruit flies and demonstrated that mutant fruit flies lacking this PPK28 channel, drink less frequently, apparently because they cannot evaluate their hydration level. The research hints at the possibility that fruit flies, and perhaps other animals, might truly taste water, but a mechanism for such a sense remains to be revealed.

Inexpensive photovoltaic solar cells remain elusive, especially when considering those based on dye-coated titanium dioxide. These devices are less efficient than silicon based PV cells but would have several advantages if only the electrolyte problem could be solved. The most efficient electrolyte uses an iodide-triiodide couple, but this not only absorbs and dissipates useful light but also corrodes silver electrical contacts. Now, the inventor of this type of PV cell, Michael Graetzel of the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Lausanne, has developed a novel electrolyte using a disulfide-thiolate redox couple that gives a power conversion efficiency of 6.4%, and does not lead to terminal corrosion.

To environmentalists the concept of "clean coal" is considered an oxymoron, however, unperturbed by those with doubts, chemists at Nano Dispersions Technology in Panama, have developed a new form for an old fuel based on a colloidal coal-water suspension that avoids the problems associated with current coal-slurry alternatives to oil. When burned in an ordinary boiler fitted with a sulphur scrubber, colloidal coal can decrease emissions of that element. The company is now investigating whether carbon dioxide emissions can be trapped during burning without having to use a separate carbon capture facility.

Australia has used plastic bank notes since 1988, when they were developed by David Solomon and colleagues at the University of Melbourne as an anti-counterfeit measure. Writing in Angewandte Chemie Solomon explains just how successful his invention has been over more than two decades of financial transactions. "Our idea was to develop materials that could not be photographed," explains Solomon, that notion eventually led to the use of clear plastic films as a substrate in place of paper. A banknote with a transparent window made of a plastic film is a simple but highly effective security feature. The material selected was a polyethylene/polypropylene/polyethylene film. Counterfeiting in Australia and other countries that have since adopted plastic bills, including Brazil, Romania, and New Zealand, has dropped by 90%.

Jeffrey Hepburn, a high school chemistry teacher at Central Academy in Des Moines was honored with the American Chemical Society's James Bryant Conant Award in High School Chemistry Teaching at its annual meeting in San Francisco. Hepburn's approach to teaching chemistry invokes CPR - chemistry, problem solving and relevance, he said. "I present the chemistry material that needs to be presented," he said. "This is enhanced by the problem solving, which is completed by multiple types of activities. The relevance is the crucial component. Students need to see the relevance behind the material being presented and why it is important to their everyday experiences."