ChemWeb Newsletter

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Publishers' select

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This week the Alchemist ponders the idea of sunlight-sucking solar cells, a bacterial protein with a twist, micro photography of Nemo and his chums, the mineral that may have sparked life on Earth, and how to build a better pH meter for medical science. Finally, an award for space chemistry.

The main cause of stomach ulcers is the corkscrew-shaped microbe Helicobacter pylori, which protects itself from the acid environment and burrows into the stomach wall. It does this with the help of a protein known as bactofilin. Now, scientists have used solid-state nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) spectroscopy to determine the structure of this protein and how it forms those burrowing fibers. The research could make bactofilin or its bacterial production a new target for antibiotic drugs against H pylori.

Finding Nemo just got a little "easier or harder" as Swiss scientists have developed a technique to print the world's smallest color photograph using red, green and blue quantum dots printed at 25000 "dpi", dots per inch. Whimsically, the team used a colorful image of the orange and white striped clown fish made famous in the animated movie as their first subject. The printed image is just 0.0092 square millimeters...approximately the same area of just a single pixel on a high-resolution smart phone display.

Ionic liquids have been touted as environment friendly alternatives to volatile organic solvents for many years. Now, two research teams at Umeå University, Sweden, have shown that switchable ionic liquids can sustain enzymatic activity, thus paving the way for the enzymatic refinement of cellulose to useful molecules and industrial products. The team outlines details of the switchable ionic liquid (SIL) formed by monoethanol amine (MEA) and 1,8-diazabicyclo-[5.4.0]-undec-7-ene (DBU) with sulfur dioxide as the coupling media in the journal ChemSusChem. "This development will be of major importance to the measurement of enzymatic catalysis in complex solutions and preparations, and the method is already being used in new projects," explains team member Jyri-Pekka Mikkolas.

A new sensor that can precisely measure physiological pH levels has been developed by researchers at the University of Toronto, Canada. The device could improve studies of many different diseases, including cystic fibrosis and cancer, where pH is a critical factor in disease progression. "Being able to detect pH levels in a living biological system in real time is crucial to detecting and understanding conditions associated with pH imbalance," explains team leader Xiao-an Zhang, an expert in chemical probes for biomedical imaging.

The 2015 Maryland Chemist Award goes to Jason Dworkin, chief of the Astrochemistry Laboratory at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland. The award recognizes Dworkin and his team's work in astrochemistry and specifically in identifying organic compounds from extraterrestrial objects, such as meteorites, comets and asteroids. More specifically, the Dworkin's focus is on those organic compounds that might be relevant to the development of life on Earth and perhaps even life elsewhere in the universe.

Yet another form of carbon has been discovered by scientists in the USA. The new phase of solid carbon, called Q-carbon, is distinct from known phases of graphite and diamond and can be produced at ambient pressure under laser action. Nevertheless, the team at North Carolina State University suggests that the most likely place this phase would form in the natural world is at the core of some types of planet. Q-carbon is harder than diamond, it is ferromagnetic and glows when exposed to even low levels of energy. "We can create diamond nanoneedles or microneedles, nanodots, or large-area diamond films, with applications for drug delivery, industrial processes and for creating high-temperature switches and power electronics," says team member Jay Narayan.