ChemWeb Newsletter

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Theo Raynor of the University of Leeds, UK, and colleagues have taken a close look at the safety information on so-called herbal remedies and raised a number of concerns about the labeling of several well-known alternative remedies. Raynor's study, published July in the journal BMC Medicine, highlights the problem by showing how many over-the-counter herbal products fail to provide consumers with key information about the safe use of these products and the risks associated with them, especially when used in conjunction with prescribed medication. The herbal industry cannot claim efficacy and simultaneously avoid regulation. It is time to shake up nature's medicine cabinet and restock the shelves, but only with those herbal remedies underpinned by science-based efficacy and safety information.

High levels of toxic polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) have been identified in the deep sediments lining the Indiana Harbor and Ship Canal (IHSC) in East Chicago, according to University of Iowa researchers. The findings, published online in the journal Chemosphere this month, build upon previous UI work that showed how PCBs can be released from the sediment floor to the water above and thence to the atmosphere. "We found that the deeper you go, the more toxic it is," warns team member Andres Martinez, "Dredging the IHSC has the potential to expose these more toxic sediments."

Astrochemists have long suspected that heavy metal elements, including lead and gold are released into space by supernovae explosions. Now, stellar computations by scientists of the Max Planck Institute for Astrophysics and affiliated with the Excellence Cluster Universe and of the Free University of Brussels have verified that the relevant nuclear reactions actually take place when neutron stars collide. Such collisions might be the source of the heaviest elements in the correct abundances across the cosmos.

The new Center of Excellence in Materials Research and Innovation at the University of Utah is being established and funded for six years by a $12 million grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF), $6.5 million for major equipment from the Utah Science Technology and Research (USTAR) initiative and $3 million from the University of Utah. The Center will develop new materials for a wide range of uses from faster computers and communications devices to better microscopes and solar cells. Director of the new center Anil Virkar says these coveted NSF Materials Research Science and Engineering Center grants are obtained only by the nation's best research universities.

Mesoporous titanium dioxide microspheres can improve surface features of the electrodes in lithium-ion rechargeable batteries allowing much faster charge-discharge cycles than is possible with conventional graphite electrodes. The work is yet another step towards making the next generation of rechargeable batteries for portable gadgets and electric vehicles. According to the developers at Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tennessee, they can charge their battery to half capacity in six minutes while the traditional graphite-based lithium ion battery would achieve just 10% charge at the same current.

Researchers have trapped magnesium-24 atoms in an excited metastable state using a magneto-optical trap cooled to near absolute zero and set a new record for the lifetime they could sustain the atoms in the excited state of 2050 seconds, about half an hour. Normally, atomic excited states exist for nanoseconds at most although metastable states might be sustained for a few seconds. The researchers at the Niels Bohr Institute were able to carry out precision measurements on the atoms, which might lead to the development of an ultra-precise atomic clock using the metastable magnesium.