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The Alchemist looks through an ITO coated glass darkly this week with another step taken towards transparent electronics for solar panels. In earthly news, life's inorganic components may have emerged as supercontinents were formed giving rise to organisms capable of sexual reproduction. In the materials world, a new form of carbon sought for half a century is made experimentally under pressure. In pharma news, an explanation for chemotherapy resistance comes to light. And, in the physical world, quantum entanglement is snapped. Finally, this week's award goes to Canadian microfluidics research.

Researchers at Brown University have used a novel solution-based chemistry to make indium tin oxide (ITO) films to simplify manufacturing of conductive films for displays and solar cells as well as reducing costs. The team was able to prepare conductive ITO films 146 nanometers thick that are also transparent to light, allowing through 93%, a transparency comparable to the glass plates on which the films are deposited. The team also applied the films to flexible polyimide hinting at the technology's potential in flexible displays.

Might the inorganic components of life on earth have emerged from much deeper in our planet than previously thought? Metals including copper, molybdenum and zinc are essential components of many enzymes and proteins. A new study in the journal Geology suggests that sexual eukaryotic life forms began to appear soon after a period of unusual geological activity that could have brought these metals to the surface from deep within the Earth's crust. The explosion of new life occurred in the Mesoproterozoic about 1.6 billion years ago and not long after the formation of the supercontinent Nuna, also known as Columbia.

Squeeze graphite and it is possible to produce yet another form of carbon to add to the gradually growing list of diamond, graphite, fullerenes, nanotubes, graphene etc. Writing in the Nature journal "Scientific Reports", a team at Yale University shows how low-temperature conversions of graphite into M-carbon are possible when the material is under pressure. They used Raman spectroscopy and other techniques to confirm the conversion. "We found that the transformation of graphite to M-carbon is extremely sluggish and requires a long time to reach equilibrium, which may be the additional reason why this puzzle remained unsolved for the past half century," explains one author Yuejian Wang.

A new explanation as to how certain cancers develop resistance to chemotherapy agents has been uncovered by researchers at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center. The team, led by Peter Nelson, has shown that when non-cancerous fibroblasts are exposed to certain drugs they too sustain damage to their DNA and that this unwittingly triggers production of a growth factor, specifically the protein WNT16B, which in turn stimulate the cancer cells to grow. The finding hints at a possible pharmaceutical intervention that might block the response in the microenvironment of the tumor and so preclude some forms of resistance.

A snapshot of quantum entanglement has been recorded by scientists in the UK. Although Einstein famously referred to this quantum phenomenon as "spooky action at a distance", it is considered real enough that countless researchers are focused on it as a major component towards understanding how to build a quantum computer, which will be underpinned by chemistry and nanotechnology. The researchers at the University of Glasgow used a highly sensitive camera array to observe the full field of the quantum light simultaneously, allowing them to snap almost 2,500 different entangled dimensions or states at once.

The 2012 Heinrich Emanuel Merck Award for Analytical Science goes to Aaron Wheeler of the University of Toronto, Canada. Wheeler developed a digital microfluidic method for the extraction and quantification of estrogen in tiny samples of breast tissue homogenate, whole blood and serum. The award, endowed with 15,000 Euros (about $18,000), will be presented to Wheeler at Merck Millipore’s Technology Exposition in Bedford, Massachusetts in October.