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This week, it's a zero hero for The Alchemist, in a novel beryllium compound, water-harvesting nanorods are found by serendipity at PNNL, researchers in Holland have invented a new class of supercapacitor, we hear, and astronomers muse on the possibility of extraterrestrials formed on ancient carbon planets. There is a new target for Alzheimer's drugs in sight, and finally, IUPAC reveals the putative names of the four recently discovered chemical elements.

The first potentially habitable worlds to form in the Universe may well have been very different from rocky Earth. New research suggests that planet formation in the early universe could have created carbon planets consisting of graphite, carbides, and diamond and Harvard University graduate student Natalie Mashian suggests that such planets would have provided a suitable source for carbon-based lifeforms.

The structural properties of complex model membranes that interact with the β-amyloid peptides thought to cause the neuronal damage in Alzheimer's disease have been examined by researchers in Milan, Italy using a neutron reflection technique. The work, which helps inform how these rogue protein fragments might interact with the cell membranes of neurons, could open the door to identifying new drug targets against the debilitating and ultimately fatal disease.

The four recently discovered chemical elements that fill some of the gaps in the Periodic Table have been assigned provisional names by IUPAC and the suggestions put up for public consultation. The names are nihonium (Nh), for the element 113, named for Nihon (Japan), moscovium (Mc), for 115, named for Moscow, tennessine (Ts), element 117, named after the US state of Tennessee, and finally, oganesson (Og), element 118, named for pioneering transactinoid scientist Yuri Oganessian.

A new molecule containing the toxic metal beryllium in the elemental, or zero-oxidation state has been synthesized by researchers in Germany. The new compound is unlikely to have any immediate applications, but demonstrates once again what a little chemical ingenuity can do in terms of accessing structures and bonds once thought impossible and could point the way to other substances with similarly bizarre valency on their metal atoms. Holger Braunschweig and colleagues at the Julius Maximilian University of Würzburg made the beryllium complexes and say they are the first stable and neutral compounds containing a zero-valent s-block metal.

Tiny fibrous carbon nanorods can "harvest" water from the atmosphere according to scientists at Pacific Northwest National Laboratory who noticed the strange phenomenon by accident. Fibers on the surfaces of desert-dwelling plants often display this property, but a synthetic material that might be manufactured into a technically viable system might be used to trap water from the air or act as sweat-absorbing wicking material for sportswear or military clothing. Chemist Satish Nune was inspecting the solid, carbon-rich nanorods with a vapor analysis instrument when he noticed the nanorods mysteriously lost weight as humidity increased.

David Eisenberg and Gadi Rothenberg of the University of Amsterdam have developed a novel supercapacitor material that is highly porous yet well-structured and has ample sites for fast redox reactions. The material is lightweight, inexpensive, and non-toxic, and while it was originally developed as a solid catalyst for fuel cells, surface modification by the team means it could have a wide range of applications in electronics, transportation and energy storage devices.