ChemWeb Newsletter

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Publishers' select

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This week, The Alchemist learns of an electrochemical catalyst for generating methane from carbon dioxide, a protein that can make warmer ice cream and the wondrous sounds of LSD research. Wild blueberries may bear fruit in the prevention of gum disease, he hears, while Israeli chemists are scribbling away to invent rewritable nanopaper. Finally, dozens of European businesses whittled down from several hundred are now vying for funding in a clean technology competition.

The International Union of Pure & Applied Chemistry, better known as IUPAC, has redefined the atomic mass of ytterbium to 173.045, down from 173.054, a 0.0052 percent drop. IUPAC's Commission on Isotopic Abundances & Atomic Weights re-evaluates atomic weights every two years and based on work by mass spectrometrists at China’s National Institute of Metrology published in the Journal of Analytical Atomic Spectrometry has given Yb its new vital statistic. Additionally, in the process of carrying out the MS studies, the team has thus created an ytterbium isotopic certified reference material in nitric acid solution which they propose as the delta zero reference for the weight-loss metal.

The devastating fires and explosions at a shipping yard in the Chinese port city of Tianjin on August 12, 2015, killed at least 160 people, injured more than 700 and destroyed buildings and cars for kilometres around, says a report in Chemistry World. Mark Peplow, writing in the Royal Society of Chemistry's flagship publication, suggests that the gross violation of safety regulations and corruption were to blame. Peplow points out that Tianjin not only starkly illustrates safety problems in China, but also has a detrimental effect on the public perception of the chemical industry worldwide. He says that change could take a generation but wherever students study, whether Beijing or Boston, those destined to become industry leaders of the future, "must be trained to see process safety as a core part of their jobs, and to understand the dreadful consequences of flouting safety protocols."

An electronic nose that uses receptors developed from the human olfactory apparatus can detect two important chemicals present in "bad" water that give rise to unpleasant and unappealing odors - namely geosmin and 2-methylisoborneol. The system can detect these compounds, which are produced by waterborne bacteria, down to levels of just 10 nanograms per liter quickly and easily without the need for longwinded offline sample preparation and cumbersome and relatively difficult to use laboratory equipment. The water-testing device the team is developing could be a boon for testing in remote areas with limited resources. The same receptor-based approach might also have applications in the aromatic world of the perfume industry.

Researchers at Lund University, in Sweden, have demonstrated that as ice melts in the Arctic Sea, so atmospheric methane levels rise. Bright sea ice reflects sunlight, while open water absorbs sunlight. Less sea ice, therefore, leads to more absorbed heat, and higher temperatures throughout the North Pole region, according to the team. Frans-Jan Parmentier, the study’s lead author and a scientist in the Department of Physical Geography and Ecosystem Science, suggests that “Changes in the Arctic Ocean can affect ecosystems located far away on land." He adds that, “While numerous studies have shown the effects of sea ice loss on the ocean, there are only a few that show how this oceanic change affects ecosystems on the surrounding land. Our research shows that to understand the impact of climate change on the Arctic, the ocean and land cannot be viewed separately.“

Terahertz emission from gallium arsenide devices can be boosted by femtosecond laser ablation of the material's surface, according to a study at Okinawa Institute of Science and Technology Graduate University (OIST). Given a sufficiently powerful laser it is possible to engrave the surface with microscopic grooves and ripples that can boost THz emission by up to 65 percent. THz radiation lies between infrared and microwave radiation in the electro-magnetic spectrum and has potential for wireless communications, medical imaging and new advances in spectroscopy.

Rajesh Davé of the New Jersey Institute of Technology (NJIT) is heading for a major career award from the American Institute of Chemical Engineers (AIChE). He is a distinguished professor of chemical, biological and pharmaceutical engineering and has won the AlChE's 2015 Lectureship Award in Fluidization, a process for agitating solids such as powders and particles in order to make them behave like liquids. His work has led to advances in such diverse areas as weapons safety and drug delivery systems, many of which have been patented.