ChemWeb Newsletter

Not a subscriber? Join now.March 22, 2016

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The Alchemist this week decides plastic is not so fantastic when it's all at sea, learns of a way to find almost any legal high, build a liquid bridge, print nanoparticles en masse, and make gossamer-like solar panels. It's Pittcon time again and a whole bunch of awards.

A new study suggests that the two-dimensional problem of plastic particles floating on the world's oceans could become a 3D issue as surface zooplankton ingest micro plastics and release them in less buoyant form in their feces. The feces provide food for other creatures living deeper in the marine ecosystem and the plastics could thus be transported to greater and greater depths and to a wider range of ocean-dwelling creatures.

A new approach from chemists at Queen’s University Belfast, UK, allows for rapid screening and identification of "legal highs" or novel psychoactive substances (NPS) using infrared and Raman spectroscopy. The new approach will help statutory agencies to identify suspicious substances that contain psychoactive compound and so enable a quicker public health response to get the message out to affected communities. Team leader Steven Bell explains that: “The production of these drugs is constantly evolving and unfortunately there have been many instances of highly dangerous variants appearing, causing multiple fatalities before the threat they posed was recognized."

Researchers at the Wetsus research centre in The Netherlands and TU Graz, Germany, have joined forces to build a floating water bridge between two vessels that can carry electrical charge. The water bridge phenomenon was known to 19th Century scientists, but the new study uses a high voltage to show that the flowing water is protonically, rather than electronically charged, and holds the charge for a short period of time. The charged liquid bridge might be used as a novel kind of reaction vessel that will facilitate low-waste reactions.

A microfluidic channel made using a so-called "3D printer" could help unlock the world of nanoparticle manufacture by removing the drudgery of production of platinum or gold nanoparticles, for instance, and so reduce costs considerably and enable mass production. At current prices gold is about $50 per gram, but gold nanoparticles weigh in at a hefty $80000 per gram! The scalable development of parallel microfluidics by a team at the University of Southern California could make nanotechnology accessible on a relatively low-cost industrial scale.

A lightweight solar cell that can be draped over a soap bubble has been constructed by researchers in the USA. The thinnest, lightest device is just 1.3 micrometers thick and weighs a mere 3.6 grams per square meter. Vladimir Bulović, Annie Wang and Joel Jean of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology used vapor deposition to fabricate the gossamer organic solar panel from tetraphenyldibenzoperiflanthene (DBP). Perovskites or quantum dots might be fabricated into devices using their approach. Such technology could broaden considerably the utility of solar power.

The 2016 Pittcon conference and expo held this week sees a worthy bunch of analytical chemists, separation scientists and applied spectroscopists receiving awards for their endeavors in chromatography, spectroscopy, and other areas. A cynic might mention a seeming lack of diversity in various terms in the honor roll but congratulations to all recipients nevertheless.