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This week The Alchemist learns that heavy metal isn't for edible sharks, that the "defeat device" pollution scandal of the automotive industry cost hundreds of thousands of dollars and may have led to dozens of premature deaths. We also learn about an inorganic double helix for electrochemistry and catalysis, how a hormone might be to blame for feelings of spirituality, and how coffee grounds could be used to cleanup industrial waste water of, again, heavy metals. Finally, this year's Genius Grant.

Shark meat is popular in many cuisines, not least that of Iran. There have been worries over many years that such marine predators at the top of the so-called food chain might accumulate large amounts of heavy metals from the prey they eat, which in turn has assimilated it from smaller creatures that absorb and sequester metal ions from the sea. Now, researchers in Iran and Italy have demonstrated using atomic absorption spectroscopy (AAS) that the edible muscle of the whitecheek shark, Carcharhinus dussumieri also known as the widemouth blackspot shark, are not dangerously high in heavy metals despite their feeding range lying in the highly polluted Persian Gulf, which lies at the focus of the oil-producing nations of the Middle East.

The manipulation of vehicle exhaust emissions by at least one unscrupulous car manufacturer may have led to ill health and even to premature deaths because of the significant impact on world pollution levels, according to a study by researchers at Northwestern University and their colleagues. The researchers used an EPA tool to assess the health and economic impact of the illegal manipulation of nitrogen oxide emissions by Volkswagen vehicles. The vehicles had on-board software to circumvent emissions testing and make them run cleaner during tests than they would on the road. Half a million cars are known to have been tampered with in this way.

A semiconductor that's also an inorganic double helix? What's not to like? A team at the Technical University of Munich, Germany, has made a strong but flexible material from tin, iodine and phosphorus that could find applications in electronics, solar technology and photo catalysis. Doping the system allows the researchers to fine tune its putative electrochemical and catalytic properties to suit particular applications.

The "loving comfort" hormone oxytocin is as controversial as it is complex, now scientists at Duke University in Durham, North Carolina, USA, have demonstrated that it may give rise to spiritual feelings in men given the hormone nasally. Earlier research has suggested that oxytocin has a role in health and well-being. This new study shows that men who received oxytocin reported experiencing more positive emotions during meditation, including awe, gratitude, hope, inspiration, interest, love and serenity. Whether or not oxytocin could be developed into a product to ease our minds is another matter, entirely, but the study offers a new clue as to how our brains create certain emotions, particularly those associated with spirituality.

Finding new uses for old coffee grounds has been many a caffeine-addicted chemist's dream for many years. Now, a foam infused with coffee grounds has been shown to absorb lead and mercury ions from contaminated water. The bio-composite material could be used in remediation of waste water using pseudo-sustainable materials as it does. The material can absorb 99% of heavy metal ions from a water sample in just 30 hours.

Scripps' chemist Jin-Quan Yu is one of just 26 people worldwide to be named as MacArthur Fellows for 2016. Yu and his 35-strong team at the Scripps Research Institute in La Jolla, California, USA, use palladium catalysts to make and break organic bonds in specific processes now utilized by the chemical and pharma industries. Given that his early schooling involved making an 8-mile round trip each day from his small village in China, he feels that his organic odyssey has anything but rapid turnaround given that his team's current project was begun in 2002.

Israel Wachs who is the G. Whitney Snyder Professor of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering at Lehigh University, USA, is the recipient of the American Institute of Chemical Engineers' top award in chemical reaction engineering. The award is in recognition of more than three decades of work in the development of cutting edge technology and growth areas in chemical reaction engineering. Wachs received the R. H. Wilhelm Award at the opening ceremony of the institute's 2016 Meeting in San Francisco. Wachs' research focuses on mixed metal oxides, supported metal oxides, bulk metal oxides, polyoxometalates, and zeolites for catalysis as well as molecular sieves.