May 2012



The humble kitchen sponge, whose day-to-day job is to scour dishes, has now been put to work in an energy storage device by scientists in Saudi Arabia.

Husam Alshareef and colleagues from the King Abdullah University of Science and Technology in Thuwal have used a sponge as a platform to support a carbon-based electrode and a transition metal oxide electrode in a supercapacitor, together with an organic electrolyte, a combination that significantly increases the amount of energy that the device can store (energy density) compared to devices using aqueous electrolytes.

Supercapacitors are energy storage devices with a higher power density than batteries, but their low energy density – an obstacle to their use in many potential applications – has led to research into improving it. This can be done in two ways: enhancing the device capacitance by getting the right electrode material and enhancing the working voltage window, which can be done by using an organic electrolyte instead of an aqueous electrolyte.

The team coated a sponge with carbon nanotubes, followed by a layer of MnO2 (both good electrode materials). They tested the device with organic and aqueous electrolytes and found that it gave a good electrochemical performance with both, but the energy density was tripled with the organic electrolyte. The sponge’s role is to allow electrolytes to flow to the entire electrode surface where the redox reactions take place.

Gives a new meaning to the phrase ‘kitchen chemistry’!

Elinor Hughes

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How often have you visited Chemistry World and wished that you too were a glamorous science journalist, putting science in the spotlight, mopping its sweaty brow with the flannel of inquisition and then wringing out the musky essence for eager consumption by a thirsty public? Perhaps you’ve dreamed of seeing your name in print as the author of a story in Chemistry World? Maybe you think writing is for the (alien) dinosaurs and you’d like to show off your multimedia skills? Well, now’s your chance. This summer, we’re launching the first Chemistry World science communication competition.

All you have to do is write an 800 word article on a topic related to the chemical sciences or produce an audio or video clip no more than five minutes in length. You can even enter both if you like. The shortlisted entries will be judged by a panel of esteemed scientists and science communicators.

The competition is open now and will close at the end of August.

Shortlisted entrants will be invited to an evening reception at The Chemistry Centre, Burlington House, London where the winners will be announced. Winning entries will be featured in Chemistry World in print and/or online, and there’s also some hard cash on offer.

To find out more and submit an entry go to www.rsc.org/CWcompetition

Philip Robinson

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In the second world war, this little molecule was essential to the German nuclear energy programme, and a prime target for Allied assualts. Peter Wothers tells the story of heavy water, the molecular star of the Heroes of Telemark, in this week’s Chemistry in its element podcast.

 

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28  May 2012: Have something to say about an article you’ve read on Chemistry World this week? Leave your comments below… (more…)

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While discussing an article this morning here at Chez Chemistry World, Patrick spies the images inside and says: ‘Look, it’s the world’s smallest swingball!’ And here it is, the world’s smallest swingball.

What you’re looking at here is a microbead attached to a microthread tethered to a tiny pole. The team responsible achieved this by making the post structure, then adding a water-based photoresist to the sample. They trapped a silica microbead with optical tweezers in the liquid photoresist and used a pulsed laser to create the microthread, with the initial fabrication point on the bead. The free end of the thread was optically trapped and secured to the top of the post using multiphoton absorption polymerisation. They then optically trapped and manoeuvred the thread, wrapping it around the post. The bead was fastened to the side of the post using a polymer.

Next up is the one we initially thought was kind of like a desk toy for bored execs, but it’s actually more like a thread going through the eye of a needle. This is the microthread being manipulated to go through the eye using optical tweezers.

The team plaited one of the microthreads using optical tweezers as well, and created a maze and a pyramid. Looks as though John Fourkas and his busy team at the University of Maryland in the US have had a little fun with this! But, as well as demonstrating a concept, the structures do have a purpose: they could be used in biological applications such as mimicking structures in the extracellular matrix and to study individual cells.

Elinor Hughes

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Nickel tetracarbonyl

Nickel tetracarbonyl - highly unpleasant, but extremely useful (Credit: Wikimedia commons/ Benjah-bmm27)

For my contribution to Sciencegeist’s toxic blog carnival, I decided to write about a decidedly enigmatic compound. Nickel tetracarbonyl is a transition metal complex but also a foul-smelling (and, given the context of this blog post, naturally highly toxic) gas. These are not generally two molecular properties that coincide. It also forms quite easily when nickel metal comes into contact with carbon monoxide.

Having not personally worked with it, I nevertheless respect and admire nickel tetracarbonyl from afar. However, this is a compound which can provoke intensely personal reactions from people who have had the opportunity to get a little more hands-on. (more…)

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Over at Sciencegeist they’ve throw down the gauntlet and asked bloggers to write about their favourite toxic chemical as part of a carnival of toxins that also play important roles in everyday life. It’s all part of the campaign by chemists and bloggers alike against ‘chemophobia’ – an irrational fear of the chemicals we find all around us in everyday life or even the very word ‘chemical’. Recently there seems to have been a spate of these articles in newspapers with chemical-free labels even popping up in labs where they ought to be choosing their words with a little more care! (more…)

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 It’s a stalwart of the undergraduate lab and can still be found introducing kids to the joys of science in even today’s modest chemistry sets. But potassium permanganate is good for much more than pretty colours and redox titrations… in fact, it could well save your life. Brian Clegg praises our purple pal in this week’s Chemistry in its element podcast.

 

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Scrap patents for HIV–aids drugs? – Stem cell drug approved – And expect chemical ‘mega acquisition’ in 2012

PHARMACEUTICAL – Here is a bold suggestion. A US senator says that the US should scrap the patent system for HIV–aids drugs, thereby slashing costs in one swift move by ending the ‘legal monopolies’ enjoyed by the companies that make them. Drugs can be very expensive – notoriously so – says Bernie Sanders, senator for Vermont. And why should that be? It’s the patents that give individual companies marketing exclusivity for many years after approval. So let’s get rid of them. The US should create a $3 billion (£2 billion) annual prize fund to reward the discovery of new treatments instead, he says. The prize fund idea appears to have the backing of Nobel prize winning economist Joseph Stiglitz – but it’s hard to imagine it winning much support with the pharma industry.

PHARMACEUTICAL – Is this the first drug based on stem cells to win marketing approval? The authorities in Canada have Prochymal (remestemcel-L) doses from US biotech Osiris Therapeutics, which says that this historic move is the first approval of a stem cell product. Prochymal (remestemcel-L) doses, which are administered through an intravenous line, contain mesenchymal stem cells (MSCs) gathered from the bone marrow of healthy adults and grown up in culture. MSCs are already used before in treatment but they have not previously been available in a off-the-shelf product that doctors can use whenever they need to. The doses are approved for the management of acute graft-versus-host disease in children. The disease is a complication of bone marrow transplantation.

CHEMICAL – DuPont has completed its $295 million project to double production capacity of its polyvinyl fluoride (PVF) film for photovoltaic cells. The company is expecting demand to grow having recently signed supply contracts with several large solar panel manufacturers. For example it recently signed a $100 million strategic agreement with Yingli Green Energy. PVF films are used in the backsheets of photovoltaic cells.

CHEMICAL – According to new analysis, the European chemical industry will be dominated by: green products such as bioplastics, high demand for innovative chemicals and materials; and industry consolidation. Meanwhile, weight management and heart and digestive health will be the high growth sectors in the food and drink industries. The report from market research firm Frost & Sullivan says that China, Brazil and Russia are the top priority regions for companies involved in construction and utilities, while India becomes more important than Russia as you move towards transport owing to massive growth in automotive production. China in particular will draw in strong chemicals investment with its far reaching development of green technology in recent years. The report predicts a ‘mega acquisition of a top 100 global chemicals company headquartered in Europe’ in 2012, despite a fall in the number of deals as a result of the lower availability of cash.

CHEMICAL – Japanese chemical firm Kuraray has struck a deal to acquired a US manufacturer of polyvinyl alcohol film: MonoSol. Kuraray has previously stated that it is keen to expand its ‘vinyl acetate chemical chains business’, which it sees as a core activity. MonoSol makes polyvinyl alcohol film for a range of applications including: packaging for single dose detergent products and moulds for synthetic marble. The companies have not released financial details of the deal.

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A couple of weeks ago Chemistry World ran a story on a cracking paper from a team in Korea. The researchers took inspiration from the way Egyptian stone masons cracked large stone blocks (they inserted a wedge into a hole and then soaked it with water, causing it to expand and crack the stone) to create a technique to make nanoscale cracks in a controlled manner. They did this by etching a guide of notches and grooves into a silicon substrate and then depositing silicon nitride on top. The notches and grooves create a pathway for cracks to propagate along and this technique could be very useful for electronic and microfluidic devices. (more…)

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