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This week, The Alchemist learns how to hook carbon atoms together, how to test edible mushrooms for toxic metals, what it means for an atom to have no properties, how quickly we might achieve a carbon-free energy future, and what happens to brain biochemistry in marijuana users. Finally, a chemist in Texas wins big.

A ridiculously simple route to new carbon-carbon bonds has been developed by Phil Baran from Scripps Research Institute in San Diego, USA, and colleagues. Baran’s colleagues at Bristol-Myers Squibb in New Jersey are now using and optimizing the active ester reaction developed by the Baran team. "This is pure translational chemistry: from invention to application in drug discovery in less than three months," Baran is reported as saying.

Atomic analytical techniques can extract the metal concentrations from an edible, wild mushroom known as the bay bolete, according to scientists in Poland. Their work focused on calcium, iron, potassium, magnesium, manganese, sodium and zinc as well as mercury levels and found that all were present in ranges well within safety limits for samples of exported mushrooms. Writing in the journal Food Chemistry, Anna Kojta and Jerzy Falandysz of the Laboratory of Environmental Chemistry & Ecotoxicology at the University of Gdansk, in Poland, explain how they collected the edible fruiting body part of the popular bay bolete mushroom from several sites across the country. The same approach could be used to test other edible species.

Scientists at the University of Basel, Switzerland and colleagues in Singapore, have observed Bell correlations between hundreds of ultracold atoms, which suggests that in the quantum world, the atoms only take on their properties at the time of observation. Until then, they essentially have no properties. Roman Schmied explains: “One would expect that random collisions simply cause disorder. Instead, the quantum-mechanical properties become entangled so strongly that they violate classical statistics.” This is fundamental science that could have important implications for understanding and manipulating the atomic world in quantum computing, encryption and other areas.

Our reliance on carbon-based fossil fuels could be over within a decade according to a study from Benjamin Sovacool at the University of Sussex, UK. Sovacool suggests that climate change could push us towards the "next great energy revolution" in a fraction of the time that have led to substantial changes in the past. However, he warns that there are many obstacles to overcome and it will take a collaborative, interdisciplinary, multi-scalar effort to get to a carbon-free future for energy.

Despite user proclamations about harmlessness, biochemically speaking heavy marijuana use leads to the same reduced dopamine release that is seen in other addictions. Anissa Abi-Dargham, professor of psychiatry at Columbia University Medical Center, New York, USA, has demonstrated, using positron emission tomography (PET), lower dopamine release in the striatum, a brain region associated with working memory, impulsive behavior, and attention. "In light of the more widespread acceptance and use of marijuana, especially by young people, we believe it is important to look more closely at the potentially addictive effects on key regions of the brain,"€ she says.

A five-year, US$500,000 grant has been awarded to chemist Michael Findlater of the Texas Tech University through the US National Science Foundation's Faculty Early Career Development (CAREER) Program. Findlater hopes to develop novel catalysts based upon a readily available metal, iron, thus sidestepping the problem of rarity and cost of precious metals such as platinum and palladium. "Adoption of base-metal catalysts, like the ones we are working on, will provide economic benefits to almost every facet of modern life,"€ Findlater says. "€œSoda bottles, textiles and fuels are just some of the products used in our everyday lives that rely on catalysis at some stage of their manufacturing process."