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The Alchemist learns of new superomniphobic materials this week that almost make the proverbial duck's back look sticky as they repel every liquid so far tested not just water. In environmental news, weighing up the toxic metals against the power savings for green lightbulbs while polymer chemists are mimicking mussels to make things stick. In the world of biofuels, Indian scientists suggest that tree seeds might be the most sustainable feedstock, while Swiss researchers boost solar energy efficiency with a new application of semiconductor. Finally, a Nobel Prize for two geo scientists.

A superomniphobic material that is 95% air can repel most liquids, according to a study at the University of Michigan. Such a material might trivially be used to make stain-resistant fabrics but could have more vital applications as protective gear for scientists handling hazardous substances or military personnel under threat of chemical attack. The material might even be used to coat ships' hulls to reduce sea-faring drag as well as coating smart phone screens to prevent finger marks. The coating is an electrospun blend of polydimethylsiloxane and fluorodecyl polyhedral oligomeric silsequioxane.Virtually any liquid you throw on it bounces right off without wetting it, explains research leader Anish Tuteja.

Low wattage compact fluorescent light bulbs and light emitting diode (LED) lighting may not be as green as once thought. Researchers in California have analyzed the metal content of CFL, LEDs and conventional incandescent lightbulbs and used a life cycle impact-based method to compare the potential environmental impact of each. Mercury vapor aside, it turns out that even though they last longer CFLs and LEDs could do more harm to the environment because of their use of a wide range of toxic metals, including lead and copper, which are not present in incandescent bulbs. The study points to the idea that designers and electrical engineers must work towards reducing the overall environmental footprint of lighting products.

Polymer chemists have long hoped to mimic the adhesive powers of sea creatures such as mussels which exude proteins that allow them to stick to oceanic rocks even in the roughest of seas. Until now, attempts have led only to materials that, while sticky, harden in air very quickly and so are rendered useless in medical and engineering applications where time to position components to be glued is needed. Now, Atsushi Takahara of Kyushu University, Japan and colleagues have synthesized a sticky acrylamide polymer that contains, catechols (which are present in the mussel proteins) protected by o-nitrobenzyl groups to prevent oxidation. They found that when exposed to light this material begins to harden but the process takes about 30 minutes, plenty of time to position two objects to be stuck together, such as tissues or engineering components.

Could seeds of common trees found across India act as a new and sustainable feedstock for biofuel production? That's the question addressed by Sukumar Puhan of the GKM College of Engineering and Technology in Chennai and colleagues there and elsewhere. Writing in the International Journal of Automotive Technology and Management, they report that vast quantities of seeds from the deciduous mahua (Madhuca indica) and semi-deciduous sal (Shorea robusta) trees are simply left to rot on the forest floor. These seeds, rich in oils, could be converted to cleaner biofuels without recourse to planting fuel crop plants and exploiting fertile soil and water that could better be used to grow food. Biodiesel production from tree seeds in India will not only reduce the dependence on crude oil imports, but also reduce the environmental impact of transportation and increase employment opportunities, the team says.

The slow, but inexorable climb to more and more efficient solar energy conversion materials takes another step forward. Scientists at the Swiss Federal Laboratories for Materials Science and Technology (EMPA), have developed thin film solar cells using copper indium gallium diselenide on flexible polymer foils. They claim a new record efficiency of 20.4% for conversion of sunlight to electricity. The development could increase dramatically the cost-effectiveness of solar power although the technology now needs additional testing, development and scale-up for industrial applications.

Two climate scientists win the Vetlesen Prize for their pioneering work on the causes of the ozone hole and ice cores.

American atmospheric chemist Susan Solomon of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) in Boulder, Colorado and Jean Jouzel who has been a member of the International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) for the last twenty years, share the $250,000 award, which is considered by many to be the equivalent of a Nobel Prize for the earth sciences. Solomon’s work to identify the cause of Antarctica’s springtime ozone losses led to a global ban on chlorofluorocarbon and other synthetic ozone- depleting chemicals. Jouzel, has been involved in collecting ice-core records from both the North and South poles since the 1970s, and developed advanced isotopic techniques for extracting past climate information from those cores.