March 2011



Frederick Sanger

Frederick Sanger

Fred Sanger (profiled in Chemistry World in 2005) is the only person ever to have won the Nobel prize in chemistry twice. But that isn’t why he’s my hero. It’s certainly one (or, rather, two) of the reasons, but his unrivalled scientific standing coupled with a world renowned modesty (‘a modest man of strong opinions’ as the Wellcome Trust has it) is what really puts him in a different league. (more…)

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The ACS meeting this spring is entitled ‘Chemistry of Natural Resources’ so a lot of the sessions have had to do with energy manufacture and storage. This afternoon I went to a session that celebrated Debra Rolison, a woman whose work on electrochemistry materials has been matched by her work improving the number of women in science faculty positions. (more…)

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A subtle tweak turns a molecule of love into the fearsome ‘go faster’ drug crystal meth. And speed kills, as Simon Cotton discovers in this week’s Chemistry in its element podcast

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European approval for retigabine

Anti-epileptic Trobalt (retigabine) has been granted its first marketing licence: the European Commission has approved the drug for the European market. Trobalt was developed by Canadian pharma company Valeant, which licensed it to GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) in 2008 in an $820 million (£510 million) deal. In Europe, the drug has been well received. In January, it gained a positive opinion from the European Medicines Agency (EMA) committee that reviewed it. But in the US, where its non-proprietary name is ezogabine, the authorities have been more resistant. The application for approval stalled in November 2010 because of what the company described as ‘non-clinical’ reasons cited by the FDA. The first-in-class candidate is thought to work by opening neuronal potassium channels, which play an important role in epilepsy. (more…)

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Today I got to hear about how sharks are helping solar fuel research. Not the fish, but Harry Gray’s solar army of high school students. Every summer, students get involved to find good catalysts for water splitting and each good candidate they find spawns into a project for one of Gray’s students back at Caltech. Gray is convinced this is a win win situation: ‘I’m saving these kids from law school’ he cried.

But my pick of today was a talk about the flavour chemistry of the Bloody Mary, although disappointingly there weren’t samples to accompany the talk! (more…)

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28 March 2011: Have something to say about an article you’ve read on Chemistry World this week? Leave your comments below…

(more…)

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The Spring ACS is being held in Anaheim this year, just next to Disneyland. Today the conference centre is being shared with a cheer competition but what have I seen today apart from cheerleaders? (more…)

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Melt-in-the-mouth ED treatment

Bayer Healthcare has launched the first melt-in-the-mouth erectile dysfunction (ED) treatment in the UK. The 10mg Levitra (vardenafil) tablet dissolves on the tongue without the need of water, has a minty flavour and comes in discreet packaging. (more…)

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The RSC has elected its first female president only 170 years after it was established. The presidency has gone to renowned electrochemist Lesley Yellowlees at the University of Edinburgh, who will succeed David Phillips in 2012 and hold the position for two years thereafter.

The move ties in pleasingly with this year: 2011 is the International Year of Chemistry, which claims as one of its themes Women in Chemistry. Furthermore, it has now been 100 years since Marie Curie won the chemistry Nobel prize. Did that play any part in the decision to pick a woman for the first time in the history of the RSC – and after an unbroken line of 87 men? Apparently not. ‘It is a happy and welcome coincidence,’ says Phillips.

Whatever the motivation, Yellowlees is undoubtedly an excellent choice. Among her many accomplishments, she boasts an MBE awarded in 2005 for services to science. And she holds arguably the most prestigious and sought after position in the business: head of the editorial board for Chemistry World.

We wish her well.

Andrew Turley

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The latest update to the h index ranking of chemists is in. George Whitesides from Harvard University, US, has extended his lead at the top of the table – adding 8 points  to get a whopping h of 163. His nearest competitor, Martin Karplus – also from Harvard –  is now 20 points adrift on 143.

Jorge Hirsch’s h index is calculated by taking the number of papers (h) by an author that have received at least h citations – so Whitesides’s h of 163 means that 163 of his papers have at least 163 citations.

But does the fact that it’s jumped 8 points since last November mean that the group has suddenly put out a mass of papers that have shot up the citation charts? Or is it just a slow building of momentum that’s rumbling on? A quick scan of the group’s publication list on the Web of Science shows it to be the latter – the vast majority of the papers with over 163 citations were published more than 5 years ago.

That’s the thing about the h index, the higher it is, the harder it is to increase. Accruing all those citations takes time and sustained quality output. But looking again at that publication list, there’s no shortage of papers hanging around the 150-160 citation mark, so I wouldn’t be surprised to see those numbers on the up and up.

Happy number crunching,

Phillip Broadwith

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