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An explosive start to this week's Alchemist, well actually it's a non-explosive start thanks to a reaction scheme that tames diazomethan. In the world of X-ray crystallography, we learn that the bound structure of a drug to treat hepatitis C has been determined and in materials science, truly alchemical-sounding chemistry reveals that Beaujolais is the tipple of choice when preparing iron telluride superconductors. A new approach to pump-probe techniques is more robust and stable than before and the alchemist learns that residues from radiotherapy could allow environmental scientists to trace waste water flow more easily than before. Finally, good news for Henry F. Schaefer III who is to receive the 2012 SURA Distinguished Scientist Award.

Chemists in Switzerland have devised a neat chemical trick that allows them to use the highly explosive reagent, diazomethane, in their reactions without risk to life or limb. Bill Morandi and Erick Carreira at ETH Zurich have shown that it is possible to use a precursor and a simple iron porphyrin catalyst to carry out cyclopropanations of styrenes, enynes and dienes in strong aqueous potassium hydroxide solution. Diazomethane can be used in aziridination, carbonyl homologation, cyclopropanation, dipolar cycloaddition, epoxidation, esterification reactions and more but its toxicity and explosive nature often precludes its use. Carreira's work opens up a new approach in which the gas is generated and consumed by the reaction in situ.

X-ray crystallography reveals the structure of an antiviral compound active against hepatitis C virus as it is bound to the viral genetic material. Hepatitis C causes chronic liver disease and increases the risk of hepatic cancer in some 170 million people worldwide. “This structure will guide approaches to rationally design better drug candidates and improve the known benzimidazole inhibitors,” explains team leader Thomas Hermann of the University of California, San Diego. The group is also working to show that RNA targets are not so very different from the more common protein targets of pharmaceutical drug discovery.

Chemists all know that physicists will use any excuse. A year after first demonstrating that red wine is a useful reagent for preparing superconducting materials, Now, Keita Deguchi at the National Institute for Materials Science in Tsukuba, Japan, and colleagues have demonstrated that of Merlot, Pinot Noir, Gamay, Beaujolais, the latter works best and it is due to the tartaric acid. In 2001, researchers showed that soaking iron telluride in red wine was an effective way to convert the material into a superconductor. It grabbed headlines but the scientists could not explain the mechanism. Now, Deguchi's team have shown that tartaric acid plays an important role in the process; the compound has the highest concentration in Beaujolais.

A two-laser system developed at ORNL by Ali Passian and colleagues exploits a quantum cascade laser to pump a target and the second to monitor the material's response to the temperature-induced changes. The remote sensing technique could be used to quickly identify chemicals and biological agents. Pump-probe techniques are not entirely novel, but Passian says his approach is fairly unique: "The novel aspect to our approach is that the second laser extracts information and allows us to do this without resorting to a weak return signal. The use of a second laser provides a robust and stable readout approach independent of the pump laser settings," he says.

Chris Sommerfield of the University of Delaware and colleagues are tracking radioactive iodine, used in medical treatments, through waterways to learn how substances travel along rivers to the ocean. The essentially harmless trace amounts of radioisotopes, specifically the synthetic radionuclide iodine-131 used in treating thyroid cancer, entering waterways from waste water treatment systems are providing scientists with a unique way to go with the flow and to trace how substances travel through rivers to the ocean. "There are only a few recent research papers documenting the behavior I-131 in rivers and estuaries worldwide, and nothing for Delaware," Sommerfield says.

Henry F. Schaefer III, Graham of the University of Georgia is to receive the 2012 Distinguished Scientist Award from Southeastern Universities Research Association (SURA). The award comes with a $20,000 honorarium and is in recognition of his efforts in "fostering excellence in scientific research." In their letter of nomination UGA President Michael Adams and Vice President for Research David Lee said: "Collectively, his publications have been cited more than 50,000 times, making him one of the most high cited chemists (as well as scientists) in the world."