June 2010



The UK’s Committee on Climate Change’s (CCC) second report to government has warned that despite the UK’s greenhouse gas emissions falling by 1.9 per cent in 2008 and 8.6 per cent in 2009, the country needs to do more as those falls were largely due to the recession and an increase in the cost of fuel.

Many in the chemical and pharmaceutical industries are worrying that meeting stricter and stricter emission control limits will hinder the UK and Europe’s competitiveness against less regulated locales.

So it is perhaps a surprise that health and personal care company Unilever has just topped the FTSE CDP carbon strategy 350 index carbon management league table, and that pharmaceutical giant GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) has come in ninth. The index ‘aims to support investors in incorporating climate change risks into their investment strategy’ and ‘features future-oriented criteria that assess the exposure of individual companies to higher future costs associated with greenhouse gas emissions’.

Among the other companies in the top ten are telecommunications company BT, aerospace and automotive experts Rolls Royce and mobile phone firm Vodafone. Supermarket chains Morrison’s and Tesco also make the top ten along with clothing and food retailer Marks & Spencer. (more…)

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Today in Lindau, the Nobel laureates continued to enthuse young students to carry on with science through their informative and sometimes quite witty lectures.

Cutting-edge chemistry and advice for future careers go hand-in-hand here in Lindau. One such piece of advice stuck in my head. Oliver Smithies from the UK, who won the Nobel Prize for Medicine in 2007 for introducing specific gene modifications in mice by the use of embryonic stem cells, told the students, ‘don’t hesitate to ask advice from other scientists.’ He ended his talk by saying, ‘if you can still be doing experiments at 85 on a Saturday afternoon and still enjoy them then you have had a good life.’ (more…)

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FermiumIn this week’s Chemistry in its element podcast, Brian Clegg wonders what’s so special about element number 100, fermium, and explains why it’s so difficult to get your hands on any.

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The Lindau meeting of Nobel Laureates is not just about science – it’s about relating to young scientists on a personal level.

When you go to a normal conference, it is usually about the subject that you work in, whether it is chemistry, physics biology or any of the areas within these broad sciences. The delegates walk around the posters or attend the lectures that interest them and their area of research. (more…)

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Ever since researchers started to dream of uncovering the ‘complete’ genetic makeup of an organism – the genome – the number of ‘omes‘ has been increasing at a staggering rate.

Now this isn’t anything to do with Hinduism and the symbol Om (although its link to the unknowable is perhaps at times somewhat poignant). The story started with the biome – any major regional biological community such as that of a forest or desert – and slowly started to spread to other fields.

So now we have genomes, proteomes, transcriptomes, interactomes – the list is seemingly endless.  And now researchers from pharma giant Eli Lilly have defined yet another ‘ome’ this time the fermentome. They describe the fermentome as a way of quantifying the ‘non-protein feed components and metabolites in mammalian cell cultures’. (more…)

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This week, I am in Lindau, a tiny town on the banks of Lake Constance in Germany, for a very special conference. Once a year the town is overrun with students all hoping to listen and talk to chemistry ‘celebrities’. Yes this is the annual meeting of Nobel laureates who have made their way here from all over the world to meet with some of the scientists of the future. Maybe some of them are even possible future Nobel prize winners.

Lindau is picturesque, a vibrant little town, with the waters of Lake Constance lapping at the shores. The weather is perfect – not a cloud in the sky – hopefully the meeting will be a great event.

Even though I have only just arrived, I can feel a buzz in the air. Just like the students, I am looking forward to hearing the laureates give their lectures, taking part in panel discussions and enthusing the next generation of scientists.

Watch this space for daily updates from me at this very unique event…

Mike Brown

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28 June 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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With all the attention on the oil slick in the Gulf of Mexico, the cost of environmental disasters has risen to new highs of awareness. So after the conviction of eight former Union Carbide employees of ‘causing death by criminal negligence’ in the 1968 Bhopal gas disaster it is perhaps no surprise that the victims have been offered a new compensation package from the Indian government.

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The latest $280 million (£187 million) payout will double the compensation received by families of the dead and others suffering health problems. But the move has been criticised by campaign group Bhopal Group for Information and Action (BGIA) for not going far enough as ‘only’ 45,000 people will receive payouts – and not the second and third generation individuals who BGIA believes are still being harmed by persistent pollutants in the region. (more…)

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Regular readers of this blog will undoubtedly have realised by now that I have a bit of a thing for new elements – I’m not entirely sure why, but I think smashing atoms together to make completely new ones is particularly cool, and being able to give a name to one would be awesome. Maybe one day I’ll be rich enough to build a particle accelerator at home like Iron Man Tony Stark, but for now I’ll stick to getting my fix from the heavy-ion research community.

The latest update is that element 114 is tipping closer to an official spot on the table. While the International Union of Pure and Applied Chemistry (Iupac) is currently considering claims for a series of elements heavier than 112 (which was officially dubbed copernicium in February this year), Christoph Düllman’s team at the GSI Hemholtz centre for heavy ion research in Darmstadt, Germany, have conjured another 13 atoms of superheavyweight 114.

This adds a significant amount of backing to the claim that Yuri Oganessian from Dubna, Russia, discovered 114 in the late 1990s. Heino Nitche from Berkeley, US, managed to make two atoms of 114 in September last year, but the German team’s new Transactinide separator and chemistry apparatus (Tasca) allowed them to produce many more atoms in their experiments.

It will still be a while before the Iupac committee makes its final rulings, but it looks likely that 114 will be high on their list with such solid evidence backing the claims, so watch this space.

Phillip Broadwith

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This week the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced the winners of the Presidential Green Chemistry Challenge Awards, which promote innovation and use of green chemistry for pollution prevention.

A couple of noteworthy winners include Dow and BASF, who were recognised for developing an environmentally friendly process for producing propylene oxide using hydrogen peroxide, and a joint award for Merck & Co and Codexis, who developed a greener way to make Merck’s best selling diabetes drug Januvia (sitagliptin). (more…)

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