ChemWeb Newsletter

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Switching on the privacy this week with smart glass, The Alchemist turns his attention to potential surface landmarks, metals and microbes, the specter of a new bond, a Zika detector, and an antibiotic innovator award.

A flick of a switch can change the opacity of a window, turning it cloudy, clear or somewhere for privacy and camouflage purposes, according to Researchers at the Harvard John A. Paulson School of Engineering and Applied Sciences. David Clarke and colleagues describe details in the journal Optics Letters. The tunable window comprises a sheet of glass or plastic, sandwiched between transparent, soft elastomers sprayed with a coating of silver nanowires, too small to scatter light on their own. Applying a voltage cause the nanowires to attract, deforming the elastomer layer randomly make the sheet opaque. Switch off the power and the sandwich reverts to its clear state.

The energy landscape - the potential surface - of acetone molecules has been mapped out using resonant inelastic X-ray scattering (RIXS) data obtained at the Swiss Light Source of the Paul Scherrer Institut in Switzerland, revealing for the first time how the formation of new hydrogen bonds between acetone molecules and chloroform affects molecular structure. “We chose to selectively excite the double bond between the carbon and oxygen atom of acetone into oscillation and analyzed the responses in detail”, explains team member Annette Pietzsch. The high resolution of the data means the researchers could successfully mapping the potential surface along this C=O double bond.

It is crucial to understand the transport and deposition of technologically important metals such as platinum. Now, a team at the University of Adelaide, Australia, have revealed the role of bacteria in the formation and movement of platinum and related metals in surface environments. Project leader Frank Reith explains that, “These platinum group elements are strategically important metals, but finding new deposits is becoming increasingly difficult due to our limited understanding of the processes that affect the way they are cycled through surface environments." The new insight into the role of bacteria could improve understanding of the bio-geochemical processes taking place in deposits and boost our ability to find and extract such metals.

A new type of hydrogen bond that forms between a B-H group and an aromatic ring has been discovered by Dieter Cremer and Wenli Zou of the computational and theoretical chemistry group at Southern Methodist University, Dallas in the US. Relatively weak non-covalent bonds between aromatic rings and a hydrogen atom joined to a carbon, nitrogen or oxygen atom, are common and critical in molecular biology and supramolecular chemistry but hints of a new approach to drug design might now be possible thanks to the discovery of the novel B-H…Pi ring hydrogen bond.

Scientists at Sandia National Laboratory in Livermore, California, have been working on a simple technique for simultaneously detecting RNA from West Nile and chikungunya virus in samples from mosquitoes. Now, the same team is looking to see whether the technique, quenching of unincorporated amplification signal reporters (QUASR), could be used to detect Zika as well. “Our ultimate goal is to develop an autonomous device to passively monitor for mosquito-borne diseases,” explains chemical engineer Robert Meagher.

Erin Carlson, a professor of chemistry at the University of Minnesota, Minneapolis, currently focuses on how to use natural products derived from microorganisms as antibacterial agents. She has now been awarded a Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers for her research into cataloging how old antibiotics work and identifying new antibacterial agents. “Antibiotic resistance is a huge threat to human health,” she says. “There have been some reports now that postulate that deaths in the United States from antimicrobial resistance will outpace cancer in our lifetime.”