January 2013



In a frankly rather bizarre video a research team from the US has been channelling the ever popular internet sensation LOLCats (if you’ve never been to the site you should probably have a look at it as it helps to explain what people under the age of 15 do with all that time they spend on the internet) to help explain their latest paper published in Nature. In a rather savvy piece of science communication that’s bound to grab the attention of teens (and immature editors everywhere…), the video reveals how in their latest work, the team led by David Anderson from Caltech discovered that mice have neurons just below the surface of the skin that solely respond to stroking sensations. Unsurprisingly, behavioural tests showed that chemical activation of these stroking neurons was rewarding for the mice and they sought out further stimulation of these neurons.

Watch the video to learn a bit more and of course as an amusing way to pass a couple of minutes. Perhaps the future of science communication is scientists reaching out to the masses through LOLCats!

Video courtesy Nature Video

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Iron hexacyanoferrate gave artists the (Prussian) blues. And they loved it. Laura Howes paints a picture with (almost) a thousand words in this week’s Chemistry in its element podcast.

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It’s been touted as the ‘trust molecule’ or the ‘cuddle chemical’ – but is there any evidence that oxytocin has any effect on how we behave? Find out in this week’s Chemistry in its element podcast.

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All over the UK this morning, news organisations are talking about a cloud of sulfurous gas emanating from a factory operated by specialist lubricants and paints firm Lubrizol in Rouen, France. The gas is spreading northwards on the wind, covering vast swathes of southern England, and southwards to the French capital, Paris.

While it has not yet reached the secret Chemistry World bunker, ‘Le pong’ – as some newspaper editors have dubbed it – has already caused considerable disruption and discomfort. A French football match was postponed and lots of people are complaining about the smell.

(more…)

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Pliny the elder though it was the gods’ way of limiting the awesome power of iron weapons. But what exactly is rust and how does it form? Find out in this week’s Chemistry in its element

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Over the last few months, the RSC has been running a competition, asking people to try and explain the Mpemba effect – why does hot water freeze faster than cold water?

The effect has puzzled scientists throughout history, but was most recently brought to light again in the 1960s by Eristo Mpemba, a student from Tanzania who challenged the received wisdom of his teachers and ended up writing a paper on the phenomenon with a local university professor, Denis Osborne.

Over 22,000 people from 122 countries submitted their theories and potential explanations for the effect, ranging from the hare-brained and humorous to more thorough and considered arguments. These entries were then whittled down to 11 by an international panel of judges and a public vote.

On Friday of last week, the RSC held an awards ceremony to announce the winner. Mpemba himself flew in from Tanzania to attend, and Osborne also joined the gathering at Burlington House in London.

(more…)

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Microwaves - not magic

Microwaves – not magic

In an essay article in Angewandte Chemie, Oliver Kappe from the University of Graz, Austria, is trying to lay to rest the idea that microwave reactors can accelerate chemical reaction by doing anything other than heating.

The main thrust of the argument is that it is essentially impossible to accurately measure the temperature of a reaction mixture without a direct, internal fibre-optic probe. Using the external infrared sensors fitted to most microwave reactors simply doesn’t cut it if you really want to work out whether what you’re seeing is really a special effect of microwave irradiation, or just an artefact of differences in heating. (more…)

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These inorganic polymers are widely used, from the bathroom to the kitchen. Find out about the chemistry of silicones in this week’s Chemistry in its element

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