March 2012



US approves new anaemia drug – Seroquel patent row continues – And Dow partners with Oz university (more…)

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Happy Birthday Robert Bunsen!

Just a quick post to note that it’s Robert Bunsen’s birthday today. He’d be 201 years old if he were alive. If you’d like to learn a bit more about the burner named after this German chemist why not check out our Classic Kit entry on the Bunsen burner. If you want to learn a bit more about the man, rather than the burner, then we’ve got a whole feature on Robert Bunsen, who ought to be remembered for far more than this humble piece of lab equipment.

Part of what made Bunsen such a great chemist was his diverse interests and during his lifetime he was called upon to investigate volcanoes and geysers and the gases exiting blast furnaces (by today’s standards he was a bit cavalier with his safety and had to be rescued on one occasion when he was overcome by fumes and blew himself up on another occasion). He was a man driven by an insatiable curiosity and made contributions to electrochemistry, toxicology and spectroscopy, but perhaps his greatest passion was teaching. So let’s light a candle for him today.

Patrick Walter


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A chocolate chemistry session, how could I refuse? Not only that, but when I got there I realised that there were also free samples. (more…)

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Paleontology, archaeology and chemistry – if I say those words you’re probably thinking isotopic rations, and chemical analysis. But what about peeling back the layers of biological history?

Loren Williams of Georgia Tech has been doing just that with the ribosome, specifically, the large subunit (LSU) ‘where all the chemistry happens.’ X-ray chromatography of the ribozome, that thing some people won the nobel prize in chemistry a few years ago, shows that the core of the LSU is conserved across the tree of life, implying not just a common ancestor but, says Williams, that the core is what the LSU began it’s life as. Peeling back the layers to the core as molecular time travel.

So Williams is working on making a testable model of what the core was, and to establish what the LSU did before it grew up and joined with the small sub unit and started making protein chains. However, it was a throw-away comment in Williams’ talk that really got me thinking. He said that as we look out of the window, or watch a nature documentary, that impression of such wide diversity is an illusion. If you break the ribozyme, meddle with the core of the LSU, life cannot continue. Once that core functionality was achieved, it stayed and at the core of all life, the structure and sequence is almost identical.

Now maybe it’s the long days, but I find that such an interesting concept and relevant to this entire meeting. The convention centre and the hotels are filled with disparate groups of chemists. Different sections that can spend their entire time in a couple of rooms, their niches. Looking at the programme, the science covered seems so diverse but ultimately, at the core the science is the same.

Laura Howes

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It was made to save fuel by stopping tyre wear but now saves lives by stopping bullets. And it’s useful for much more besides. David Lindsay looks at the wonder material, Kevlar, in this week’s Chemistry in its element podcast.

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PCSK9 inhibitors for cholesterol problems perform well – $500m for Ista – And light materials from Bayer (more…)

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The ACS Award for Creative Innovation Symposium in honour of Chad Mirkin was a who’s who of clever nano chemistry with bio applications.

John Rogers presented his flexible circuits and you can read my story here. But the flexible circuits are also being used in a way I didn’t mention in the story – for imaging the brain during epileptic fits. With patients with extreme epilepsy, surgery is sometimes used. Surgeons open up the skull, cover the brain in electrodes and then provoke a seizure to see where to cut. Rogers’ group has developed their circuits for this as well, and he showed an amazing video of the repeating waves that pulse through the brain during a fit. So what looks like very applications based science has now given new insights into epilepsy:

I luckily got to chat to David Walt after the session about creative innovation and how spin outs can amplify the impact of science. Obviously, being the founder of Illumina, Walt has an interesting perspective. ‘A lot of scientists don’t realise that the real impact is when you grow a technology to when it’s commercially successful,’ he says. He urged people not to focus on the ‘quick buck’ but focus on creating a lasting, long-term company. Of course, that’s easier said than done, but Walt does believe that the entrepreneurial side of science then pushes you to do better fundamental research. At the symposium today, that was a heady and enticing prospect.

Laura Howes

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Static electricity usually conjures up images of Van de Graaff generators, crazy hair, sticking balloons to walls and the odd shock from an inappropriate clothing choice.

But when Classic Kit columnist Andrea Sella happened to mention a couple of months ago that the cause of static charging is still far from understood, my interest was piqued.

I had assumed from schooldays that it was all sorted out – you rub stuff and it gets charged. But when you think about it, what’s actually causing that charge buildup? Is it really electrons? Surely the work function – the energy required to displace an electron from the surface – of those materials is far higher than simply placing them in contact with another material? What about ions? Or both?  Or even bits of the materials themselves transferring over – as I found out researching my latest news piece?

So what’s really going on? (more…)

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Well I’m here in San Diego for the Spring ACS meeting (even if my suitcase isn’t) and the packed schedule has already brought up some gems. Here’s my round up of day 1… (more…)

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It has been brought to our attention here at the Chemistry World cabana that one of our staff has been the victim of a vile plot to impersonate a science journalist. In a staggering revelation, we have learned that a professional actor has been hired to masquerade as our beloved Philip Robinson.

The real Philip Robinson

An imposter








The architects of this nefarious scheme remain unknown and their motives are as yet unclear but the implications would appear to be sinister in the extreme. We can only assume that our brave and handsome reporter was getting too close to the truth and those in danger of being exposed have sought to damage and discredit his good actual name. Rest assured, the RSC has been quick to respond and has issued a statement to the press, exposing the fraudster. But fear not, dear readers, such cowardly tactics will not intimidate us. The truth will out – Chemistry World will not be silenced.

The writer wishes to remain anonymous

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