April 2010



auf der lauer

Bill Gates, founder of Microsoft, has made an equity investment in the chemical simulation company Schrödinger. Founded in 1990, the company has developed software that it says has been used in nearly every major pharmaceutical company to assist their pharmaceutical and biotechnology research programmes.

According to the press release the investment is intended to enable Schrödinger to improve the state of the art in computer-aided drug design.

Hopefully, any drugs developed will leave Schrödinger’s cat alive and well… (more…)

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rotaxane-brake-on

Making molecules that can twiddle about and walk around is something of a hot topic at the moment – so much so that we had a feature article on them a few months ago. But while it’s all very well making rotaxane molecules that can spin around on an axle, if you can’t control when it stops or goes, then it’s not going to be much use in a molecular machine.

rotaxane-brake-off

That’s exactly what David Leigh from the University of Edinburgh, UK, and colleagues from the Netherlands and Italy have managed to solve – they’ve made a rotaxane that’s held with the brakes on by a set of hydrogen bonds (the red lines in the picture). As methanol is added (in the gas phase at the moment, not solution) the braking H-bonds are disrupted and the brake comes off, allowing the axle to spin (see video).

While this may not be the most useful braking mechanism in the world in terms of actually building a useful molecular machine, it’s quite a neat demonstration of the mutability of hydrogen bonds, bending chemistry to the will of man to achieve mechanical outcomes. The train of progress is at full pelt, and someone just took the brakes off…

Phillip Broadwith

Reference: A M Rijs et al, Angew. Chem. Int. Ed., 2010, DOI: 10.1002/anie.201001231

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While science may not be top priority on the front lines of the election campaigns, it is clear that politicians in the UK are paying a little more attention to what has become known as the ‘geek vote’.

So here at Chemistry World towers, we’ve decided to launch our very own online ballot – cast your vote on the Chemistry World homepage (the poll is near the top of the page on the right hand side).

If you’re still a ‘floating voter’, take a look at the responses from all three parties to the Campaign for Science and Engineering (CaSE)’s ‘letter to the leaders‘ over at the CaSE blog. And don’t forget to check out the last of three live TV debates on the BBC tonight (there’s still time to submit a question to be put to the party leaders if you’re quick!) – with the economy in the spotlight and all three parties saying that science will be key to the economic recovery, there’s a chance we might see science policy debated openly (as long as there aren’t any comments about bigotry…)

After the election next Thursday (6 May), we’ll be comparing your votes with the outcome and looking forward to what it might mean for the future.

Are you gripped by election fever? Or resigned to the fact that nothing will change whatever the outcome? Let us know your thoughts.

Phillip Broadwith

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oil-slick-esa1

Following my blog on 23 April about the sinking of the US oil rig in the Gulf of Mexico, I thought I would post an update.

Attempts to stop the flow of oil leaking from the sunken platform using a robotic submarine, by closing the valves at the sea bed, are failing at present meaning 42,000 gallons of oil are escaping into the ocean everyday.

In a BBC story published today, experts said the oil spill now covers 28,600 square miles. Vessels are trying to halt the progress of the slick using boons, oil and water separators, and oil skimming devices.  (more…)

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Scientists have found that compounds similar to capsaicin (see below), the active ingredient in chilli peppers, are generated when animals feel pain – and have developed molecules that can block them, and the pain they cause.

The research, led by Kenneth Hargreaves of the University of Texas in San Antonio, US, could lead to the development of a new class of non-addictive painkillers. (more…)

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dy3

This week’s Chemistry in its element podcast: Simon Cotton, from Uppington School in the UK, on an element that played hard to get but once caught gave a wide range of chemical applications

 

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96260156

26 April 2010: Have something to say about an article you’ve read on Chemistry World this week? Leave your comments below…

(more…)

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plane1

Scientists say that plane-free skies over Europe last week due to the Eyjafjallajokull volcanic eruption might shed light on how air travel affects climate change.

In a Reuters news story published on Friday, scientists explained that similar events in the past that have led to a flying ban, provided valuable temperature data to compare to data collected when air travel was in operation to see if there were any noticeable changes.  (more…)

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baleen-whale-2501

An article in New Scientist today, has prompted me to blog about whale poo! Scientists believe that saving endangered baleen whales could help increase iron levels in the Southern Ocean and in turn boost the ocean’s carbon storage capacity.

The idea that iron is essential for the growth of phytoplankton in the ocean is well known, as noted in a Chemistry World story last year. An increase in phytoplankton would lead to an increase in removal of carbon dioxide from the air by photosynthesis. In this regard, dumping tonnes of iron sulphate into oceans in a bid to promote plankton generation has been considered – but has proved to be a very controversial topic as the long term effect of such action is unknown. (more…)

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burning_oil_well-350

The sinking of the oil rig in the Gulf of Mexico, after a major explosion on Tuesday night that injured 17 workers and leaves 11 still unaccounted for, could lead to a major environmental crisis, say coast guards in a BBC story published yesterday.

Fears are now growing that the rig could leak up to 300,000 gallons of oil a day from the submerged well and there have been reports of an oil slick measuring 1.5km by 8km on the surface of the ocean. The environmental damage to marine life could be huge, especially if it reaches US shores.  (more…)

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