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This week, The Alchemist soaks up the solar rays with a new artificial photosynthesis test bed, learns how to make molecular insights in the dark, spots lipstick traces without touching, and sees a toxic recipe for stainless magnesium. In soda news, revelations about the popping bubbles could point to a better understanding of cancer pain, we learn. Finally, international chemical safety and security is rewarded by the American Chemical Society.

The addition of arsenic to magnesium could have significant implications for the aerospace, automotive and electronics industries because it produces a material with a much reduced corrosion rate. Magnesium is the least dense structural metal and so has many potential applications in engineering. Unfortunately, it has corrosion issues. Now, for the first time, a team led by Monash University's Nick Birbilis has created a magnesium alloy that is essentially stainless because of the presence of the cathodic poison arsenic, which precludes the oxidation of the metal. This is a very important and timely finding. In an era of light-weighting for energy and emissions reductions, there is a great demand for magnesium alloys in everything from portable electronics to air and land transportation, says Birbilis.

New research from the Monell Center reveals that bubbles are not necessary to experience the unique 'bite' of carbonated beverages, which is caused by the enzymatic formation of carbonic acid in the mouth as one takes a sip of soda. Bubbles do, however, enhance carbonation's bite through the light physical feel of the bubbles picked up by our sense of touch. The finding could have implications not only for the drinks industry but for those hoping to take control of cancer pain where acid formation is often at the center of pain. Because the subjects [tested in our study] experienced the same bite when bubbles weren’t present, the findings clearly told us that carbonation bite is an acidic chemical sensation rather than a purely physical, tactile one, explains team leader Bruce Byant.

Chemical engineer Nancy Jackson of Sandia National Laboratories in Albuquerque, New Mexico, whose research team works with chemistry laboratories around the world to ensure chemicals are handled safely and securely has been named a 2013 American Chemical Society Fellow. The honor is awarded to scientists who have demonstrated outstanding accomplishments in chemistry and have made important contributions to the ACS itself. In 2007, Nancy Jackson helped the US Department of State create the Chemical Security Engagement Program and closely works with scientists worldwide, particularly in developing countries, to promote safe use of chemicals and to enforce chemical security.

Two prototype antennas have been built on a chemical test bed built on a half-synthetic, half-natural ring of protein and pigments by student Michelle Harris and research scientist Darek Niedzwiedzki at Washington University in St Louis. One incorporates the synthetic dyes Oregon Green and Rhodamine Red and the other combines Oregon Green and a synthetic version of the bacterial pigment bacteriochlorophyll that absorbs light in the near-infrared region of the spectrum. Both designs soak up more of the sun’s spectrum than native antennas in purple bacteria that provided the inspiration and some components for the test bed and point the way to novel artificial photosynthesis systems for absorbing energy from sunlight.

Precisely how chemical species interact in biochemical solutions or at the interface between solid and liquid is a question of great importance to chemists. Answers will provide insights at processes in catalysts, smart functional materials and even physiological processes in the body, which are essential for health. Now, researchers at Helmholtz Zentrum Berlin have developed a new black box tool that allows them to take the fingerprints of such interactions on the atomic scale. The team explains that the system builds on earlier, well replicated research using X-ray spectroscopy that reveals the disappearance of photons at some specific photon energy and correlates this with chemical interactions via a proposed a dark channel mechanism. Colleagues at the University of Rostock provided the theoretical underpinnings to make the link between high-resolution spectroscopic data and the mechanism.

A study by forensic scientists at the University of Kent, England, has established a new way of identifying which brand of lipstick someone was wearing at a crime scene without removing the evidence from its bag using Raman spectroscopy. The technique could reduce the risk of contamination of evidence. Analysis of lipstick traces from crime scenes can be used to establish physical contact between two individuals, such as a victim and a suspect, or to place an individual at a crime scene. The use of Raman spectroscopy avoids the usual destructive forensic techniques required for such an analysis, according to the team led by Michael Went.