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This week clean water, exoplanetary helium, healthy chocolate, counting climate by counting tree rings, and crystal tips for pharma are all on the mind of The Alchemist. Finally, the inventor of the year, according to Battelle.

Fresh water is running out. Technologies to make the beautiful briny potable will be essential in the coming years especially in the wake of climate change. Now, researchers from the USA have developed self-assembled block polymer membranes that could be both customizable and have uniform pore sizes for water treatment systems. "Most state-of-the-art membranes for water treatment are designed to let water pass through while filtering contaminants," explains team member William Phillip of the University of Notre Dame. Their tailored approach to block polymers allows them to choose precisely what materials are filtered which means they can process seawater, brackish water, and waste water in a way that is not readily available to conventional traditional technology.

The Hubble Space Telescope has provided critical information to demonstrate for the first time, the presence of helium in the atmosphere of an exoplanet. Specifically, the team led by Jessica Spake of the University of Exeter, UK, used infrared spectroscopic data on the exoplanet WASP-107b to reveal the presence of this primordial element. "Helium is the second-most-common element in the universe after hydrogen," explains Spake. "It is also one of the main constituents of the planets Jupiter and Saturn in our Solar System. However, up until now helium had not been detected on exoplanets - despite searches for it." She adds that, "The strong signal from helium we measured demonstrates a new technique to study upper layers of exoplanet atmospheres in a wider range of planets."

Some news is too good to be true, but sometimes there's a kernel in that news that is good nevertheless. Researchers at Loma Linda University of Health have demonstrated that eating dark chocolate can reduce inflammation and stress, and improve mood. Results from the first human trials involving this product in this context were reported at the Experimental Biology 2018 annual meeting in San Diego in April and refer to chocolate products that are at least 70% cacao solids. While it is known that cacao contains flavonoids, which have putative health benefits, this is the first time its effects on cognitive, endocrine, and cardiovascular health have been demonstrated.

A decade-long sequence of tree ring growth ring has been correlated with nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) spectroscopy of pine trees to show how carbon metabolism in trees is changing with climate change. The international team from Austria, Sweden, and the USA examined the isotope ratio at all six individual C-H positions in glucose formed by photosynthesis in the black pine (Pinus nigra). The experiments reproduced previously known findings regarding carbon dioxide uptake but also revealed several new signals associated with subsequent metabolic processes. The work was extended to eleven additional tree species from around the world. "Our results from eleven trees species show that the carbon-13 to carbon-12 ratios at individual C-H positions leave a fingerprint of the regulation of metabolism, which seems to be similar for all species," explains Thomas Wieloch of Umeå University.

An instrument that quickly and inexpensively reveals whether or not a new pharmaceutical formulation have traces of crystallinity has been developed by researchers at Purdue University, in West Lafayette, Indiana, USA. The device could be used to show if a particular formulation is likely to have availability of stability problems. The instrument exploits the phenomenon of triboluminescence, measuring the light emitted when a powdered form of the pharmaceutical is crushed.

The global science and technology organization Battelle has named its "Inventor of the Year" as Matthew Sfeir for his research into thin-film optical devices and advanced solar cell materials. Sfeir is a chemical physicist at Brookhaven National Laboratory. The scientist has for a decade studied the most basic photophysical properties, those induced by light, of materials. His discoveries have been translated into novel technologies in the cutting edge areas of thin-film optical devices and solar cells.