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This week, an electronic blast could kill superbugs and give us sweeter smelling socks, the Alchemist learns. Models could improve our understanding of volcanic ash and oil spills while analytical instrumentation for atmospheric studies is improved with a low-noise controller. In the technological field, a new nano material based on titanium pentoxide could one day outshine Blu-ray, and molecular bubbles could deliver drugs more effectively than conventional polymer capsules. Finally, emergency NSF funding could help in the cleanup after the Gulf of Mexico oil release.

Blasting silver nitrate solution can produce antibacterial silver nanoparticles without the need for a host of reagents, according to researchers in India. The study by Rani Pattabi and colleagues at Mangalore University, suggests that silver nanoparticles generated in this way are more effective than chemically produced particles in tests against resistant strains of Staphylococcus aureus, Streptococcus pneumonia, Escherichia coli and Pseudomonas aeruginosa, varieties of gram positive and gram negative microbes, some of which are untouched by conventional antibiotics. The research could assist in the production of bactericidal materials.

Volcanic ash from Iceland and re-routed flights has brought to the fore the science of air-flow patterns, according to Virginia Tech engineer Shane Ross. Similarly, the flow of oil particles in the Gulf of Mexico is also high on the environmental agenda at the moment. Although the flow of particles is apparently random, Ross's work suggests that it can be characterized more effectively. Working with colleagues in Belgium he has developed a way of modeling such systems that exploits Lagrangian coherent structures. The model was based on Antarctic ozone hole data, but is equally applicable to a wide range of geophysical phenomena, including atmospheric and oceanic transport of pollution.

A new device can deliver stable and reliable power to the lasers used in gas sensors for atmospheric science, according to work at Pacific Northwest National Laboratory. The low-noise current controller was recently licensed to Bozeman, Montana-based Wavelength Electronics Inc. "Low-noise current controllers open up new ways for us to analyze trace gases," said Matthew Taubman, a PNNL scientist who developed the device. "Now we can evaluate significantly smaller gas concentrations."

A material that undergoes a photoreversible transition from metal to semiconductor could lead the way to ultra-high density data storage, with 500 times the capacity of Blu-ray disks, according to research from Japan. Shin-ichi Ohkoshi and colleagues from the University of Tokyo have produced a material based on nanoparticles of titanium pentoxide. This material undergoes a transition close to room temperature, uses ultraviolet light, which is essential for high memory density, and only needs a lower input power to for the state to be sustainable.

Virgil Percec of the University of Pennsylvania and colleagues have constructed a new family of vesicles, tubes, disks, and other shapes from dendrimers. The dendrimersomes could be more effective in drug delivery and other applications than nanostructures made from phospholipids or polymers. The team used two-faced "Janus dendrimers" compounds that branch repeatedly from a central point but are amphiphilic, with a polar side and a non-polar side. "This is truly groundbreaking work," says Donald Tomalia of Central Michigan University, who discovered dendrimers in 1979. "It's the first step toward a huge family of dendrimersome structures."

The US National Science Foundation has awarded a rapid response grant, amounting to almost $120,000 to David Valentine of the University of California at Santa Barbara and colleagues. The money will fund research into how dispersants and surfactants are affecting the degradation of oil in the Gulf of Mexico. "This research will use a combination of chemical and biological tools to track changes in the composition of the oil, changes in the microbes in the Gulf, and changes in the amount of surfactant present, to determine the impact of these dispersants on oil biodegradation," explains Don Rice, program director for NSF's Division of Ocean Sciences, which is backing the work.