ChemWeb Newsletter

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In the first issue of 2011, the International Year of Chemistry and the centenary of Marie Curie's Nobel Chemistry Prize, The Alchemist discovers that the 2010 Nobel physics material might one day usurp silicon as the computer industry's material of choice. In medical news, stem cell research shows that despite their popular image as deleterious to health, reactive oxidizing species are essential to neuronal development and growth. In pharmaceutical news, we learn that a Trojan could defeat HIV and in biochemistry a putative pheromone in tears of sadness apparently stifles the male libido, although a lot more chemistry is needed before such a supposition is proven. Dioxins hit the tabloids at the beginning of January when contaminated fat in Germany destined for biofuel was revealed to have been used in chicken feed on German farms and subsequently led to the withdrawal of contaminated egg products from UK supermarket shelves. Finally, 2011, as we mentioned is the UN's International Year of Chemistry, an opportunity for chemists everywhere to join in the celebrations and to demonstrate the power of chemistry for good regardless of tabloid scare stories.

Moore's law of computer chips alludes to the discovery that the number of transistors that can be placed in a given area doubles every eighteen months or so. Since, the former Intel boss's 1960s prediction the law has held steady and acts a roadmap for how well the industry is doing. However, chips are fast approaching physical barriers that might not be surmounted by conventional semiconductor electronics. Graphene, which won its developers in the UK the 2010 Nobel Prize for Physics might offer a way around those obstacles. Georgia Tech researchers have now reported fabricating an array of 10000 top-gated transistors on a 0.24 square centimeter chip, an achievement believed to be the highest density reported so far in graphene devices.

For many years, the idea has been promoted to the public that free radicals and oxidizing species are hazardous to health and a whole "antioxidant" industry has emerged to address this purported problem. However, such species are a key part of the immunological response and normal metabolic processes. Now, US researchers have demonstrated for the first time that neural stem cells must maintain high levels of reactive oxygen species in order regulate their normal self-renewal and differentiation processes. Although such species are harmful in stroke and in heart failure, the new findings, published this month in the journal "Cell Stem Cell" could have wide implications for studies of brain repair and abnormal brain development.

Researchers at Yale University have developed a proteosome inhibitor that is released into a cell only if that cell is infected with HIV. The "Trojan Horse" has a steric, dendrimer cap that is cleaved only by HIV-1 protease, which releases the drug into the cell killing it so that the HIV cannot corrupt the cellular machinery for its own replication. The research builds on an earlier drug developed by the team to act as a cytotoxic epoxyketone proteasome inhibitor for treating cancer. That drug is currently in Phase III clinical trials. There is an obstacle to the success of the modified drug in that HIV must be active to trigger its own downfall.

Research using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) suggests that the male libido is inhibited by a chemical present in female tears. Research comparing tears from women who had viewed a sad movie and salt solution drizzled down the cheeks of a control group of women suggests that an odorless pheromone may be present in women's tears of sadness that some reduces testosterone levels in men and lowers activity in sexual arousal centers in the male brain. Of course, a precision analysis of tears of sadness, neutral mood tears, and perhaps tears of joy, using mass spectrometry or chromatography would reveal whether there were a genuine chemical entity present that might be investigated for physiological activity.

Liquid egg product from Germany contaminated with minute quantities of "dioxin" has led to a food panic, with supermarkets across the UK where short-life baked products made with the egg have been withdrawn from sale. Fat used in chicken feed was known to have been contaminated in March 2009 leading to contamination of the liquid egg at levels of some 5 picograms per gram of egg. This is double European Union safety limits for dioxins but still very much within the tolerance that would have any detrimental health effect on an average adult. Indeed, a 200-pound man would have to eat 100 whole contaminated eggs within a week for any increased risk to become apparent.

2011 is designated the United Nations International Year of Chemistry a celebration of the science and art of our subject. The theme for IYC2011 is "Chemistry - our life, our future" and it will offer a range of interactive, entertaining, and educational activities for all ages around the world at the local, regional and national level. The primary goal of IYC2011 is raise public appreciation of chemistry and to demonstrate how it will help address global problems in environment, medicine and elsewhere and to help enthuse people to be yield our creative future through chemistry. IYC2011 coincides with the centenary of Marie Curie receiving the Nobel Prize for Chemistry.