Guest post from Tom Branson

Photographs rarely make an appearance on journal covers and for good reason. How exactly are we meant to capture on film a chemical reaction? Well, Catalysis Science and Technology stuck a wonderful example on the cover a recent edition of the journal. So what is their secret to taking a good photo of the goings-on inside a test tube? Well here’s the trick, you don’t.

(more…)

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On 11 September 2015, Chemistry World will host a panel discussion at the ISACS conference being held in Rio de Janeiro in Brazil. The discussion will  explore how chemical renewable energy can fit into the world’s future energy supply.

Panelists include:

If you want to come along, RSVP here: https://events.rsc.org/rsc/798/home

There’s still time to register for the conference: http://www.rsc.org/ConferencesAndEvents/ISACS/ISACS17/index.asp Student registration is only $80.

But if you can’t make it, don’t worry – we’ll be making a video of the best bits. And you can still get involved beforehand – tweet us your questions for the panel with the hashtag #EMix2050, or leave a comment below.

 

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Guest post by Heather Cassell

Sometimes life in the lab can be a quiet and lonely affair. Isolation can creep in if your experiment requires long and unsociable hours, or you’re using a specialised bit of equipment that lives on its own, or simply when your lab mates are not around. The fact that labs often buzz with the hustle and bustle of science in action makes these contrasting moments all the more stark.

©iStock

Not that isolation is always a bad thing – if you are working hard and on a project that takes a lot of concentration then it can be a relief to be on your own. Being antisocial can allow you to get on with what you are doing without being disturbed. But if you have gaps in what you are doing – between multiple short incubation times or centrifuge runs, for example – then being on your own can be a drag and the few minutes you need to wait can feel like an age.

So I keep myself busy: I get useful small lab tasks done (with one eye on the clock), begin planning my next experiment, make sure my notebook is up to date. Sometimes it’s possible to simply sit and enjoy the peace and solitude. If you are lucky enough to work in a lab where you can listen to music on either a communal radio or a personal stereo, then this can really help to pass the time, and as you are on your own you can put on any music that you like, as long as it’s not too loud! (more…)

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Guest post by Rowena Fletcher-Wood

Perhaps, if you spend enough time looking, you can find anything. So it was for Charles Goodyear, a would-be inventor who, at the expense of everything else, bounced back after every failure, devoting his life to transforming natural rubber into a commercially useful material. He saw the potential immediately – just not the chemistry.

The rubber in Goodyear’s hands during the early 1830s wasn’t a particularly useful material. It was temperamental: whilst it exhibited promising properties including elasticity, hydrophobicity, adhesiveness and electrical insulation, when it got hot it would melt and turn into a horrible sticky slime, and when it got cold in the chilly English weather it would become brittle and readily crack.

Looking at the structure of rubber, it all makes sense: a natural cis polymer of isoprene, this allowed it to stretch (whereas the trans polymer of isoprene, gutta-percha, is crystalline) and the chains could readily flow past each other, especially when warmed. Equally, when solidified, splits could propagate rapidly and directionally between the chains of polymers. Goodyear put a lot of time and effort into trying to mop up the runny rubber by mixing it with various different dry powders and attempting to reform it into a ball. But it would take chemical rather than physical methods to get this compound to bend to his will. (more…)

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Oliver Thorn-Seshold

Chemistry World was delighted to sponsor a poster prize at ISACS16 (Challenges in Chemical Biology), held in Zurich, Switzerland, last month. Oliver Thorn-Seshold was the winner with his poster entitled ‘Photoswitchable inhibitors of microtubule dynamics: Photostatins optically control mitosis and cell death.’

Oliver explains his work:

‘My motivation was to take a shot at curative tumour chemotherapy, based on a mechanism that has not been explored for drugs before – reversibly light-targetable cytotoxins.

The idea is to apply the drug globally in the patient, but activate it locally in the tumour by illuminating the tumour zone with pulses of blue light. Outside the tumour zone, the drug should remain inactive. One could therefore use higher doses than conventionally possible, so therapeutic effectiveness can be improved whilst limiting side effects.

(more…)

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The history of chemistry is littered with memorable quotes like this, penned by Johann Joachim Becher, in the 1667 work Physica Subterranea. The best quotes are striking sentences or poignant paragraphs that hold fast in the mind, long after their source has faded from memory, snippets and soundbites that encapsulate feeling or opinion.

To celebrate quotable chemistry, we’re launching a competition to find our favourite quotations. Send in humorous or inspiring quotes, along with a reference for where we can find them, and you could win £50 of Amazon vouchers! Second place will win a £25 voucher, and three runners up will each receive a Chemistry World mug. (more…)

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As beacons of success in the scientific community, it seems strange that a few Nobel laureates in attendance at Lindau have highlighted the important role failure and frustration play in any scientific endeavour.

Panellists discuss the state of research in Africa and the importance of role models for the younger generation    Credit: Adrian Schröder/Lindau Nobel Laureate Meetings

Upon taking to the stage this morning, Steven Chu, 1997 Nobel laureate in physics, described his early career in science as ‘a series of failures’. He discussed how, during his days as a postdoc student, he would become fascinated by a problem, only to quickly move on when spurned in his attempts to answer it.

During his talk on fluorescence microscopy, Eric Betzig, a 2014 laureate in chemistry, openly admitted that he became deeply frustrated with the path his discipline was taking and decided to leave science all together before later arriving back on the scene with a new outlook on scientific inquiry.

In a similar vein, the famed crystallographer, Dan Shechtman, likened his quest to challenge the status quo to that of a cat walking through a gauntlet of German Shepherds.

And yet, they are all here to tread the boards of the Lindau stage. Many have cited perseverance and tenacity as crucial tools in obtaining success in science, but all here at Lindau have stressed that the fortuity of having a brilliant mentor and role model is what set them on the right path. (more…)

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On the idyllic island of Lindau, Germany, you can’t help but be inspired by the beautiful vistas that envelope this small getaway on the edge of Lake Constance, with the town itself embodying the very spirit of the scientific meeting that is currently taking place here.

Nobel laureates (l-r) Eric Betzig, Stefan Hell, William Moerner, Martin Chalfie and Steven Chu discuss the nature of interdisciplinarity at the 65th Lindau Nobel meeting. Credit: Christian Flemming/Lindau Nobel Laureate Meetings

At the 65th Lindau Nobel Laureate meeting, 65 Nobel laureates from an array of scientific disciplines are hoping to inspire over 650 young scientists from across the world. These early career researchers have been selected from a vast amount of applicants to engage in scientific debate, foster new working relationships and gain inspiration from those who have dared to challenge scientific paradigms.

Delegates were treated to a series of fascinating talks on Monday morning from some of the most recent recipients of the famed Nobel medal. Stefan Hell and Eric Betzig, two recipients of the 2014 Nobel prize in chemistry for their work on super-resolution microscopy, kicked things off in earnest with frank discussions on how they arrived at this point. Hell’s talk in particular resulted in a poignant moment where he confessed that ‘it’s not the 2015 me who started this, but the 1990 me – he deserves the credit’. (more…)

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Guest post by Heather Cassell

Some experiments fail. Despite your best efforts, and especially for experiments that take many steps or a long time to run, you often won’t find out if they have worked until the very end.

Image By Tweenk (Own work) [CC BY 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

As I’m sure you can imagine, this is a source of great frustration for a lab-based scientist. So much of your time is dedicated to setting up and running your experiment. Once you’ve made a plan and began the experiment, you have no choice but to blindly carry on assuming everything is fine, before you reach the end and discover whether or not it has worked. If it had then great! You can get on with the important business of analyzing your results to see how they fit in with the rest of your work. If your experiment didn’t work, you need to start the tortuous process of troubleshooting to find out what went wrong.

I have to confess that I enjoy the in between steps, the calm before the storm. There is a certain happiness in not knowing, freeing you up to concentrate on each step of your work, rather than the overall result. At this stage there is positivity and hope that your meticulous planning is going to give you the results you need. This positive attitude can last right up until the results come in, when the illusion can be shattered by the lovely picture of your positive controls and not much else.

So what to do now? Small changes to one of the steps in your process can make a huge difference to your results. Having a good set of both positive and negative controls can be a great help during troubleshooting: if the results show just your positive controls you know the problem is with your samples, if there are no results you know the problem is with the experiment. Now where will I find that error?

It is even more frustrating if you have inherited the protocol, or are trying to replicate one given in a paper. Even worse is a failing in a method you’ve had success with in the past! You can resolve many problems with patience and dedication, but sometimes it’s worth running the problem by someone else just to check you are not making a simple mistake that you have overlooked. Is the incubator at the wrong temperature? Have you added the wrong antibiotic? (Both common sleep deprivation related problems.)

You can spend days, weeks, even months tweaking the conditions of your experiment to make it work. But it is important that you don’t keep going round in circles or blindly repeating yourself, take notes, take a step back or take a deep breath and ask for help! Everyone has bad days in the lab, it’s how you react to them that shows how well suited you are to science.

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Guest post by Rowena Fletcher-Wood

Some discoveries are made after hunting hard for the answer, some come to you when you need them most, and some just turn up at parties. Such was the discovery of modern anaesthetics.

Method of administering nitrous oxide used by Samuel lee Rymer in London, 1863
Credit: Wellcome Library, London. Copyrighted work available under Creative Commons Attribution only licence CC BY 4.0

The concept of anaesthetics and their application to relieve pain during surgery was not wholly new. The Mesopotamians used alcohol (and its use persisted in resource deprived times such as war as late as 1812) and the ancient Chinese used acupuncture. The Sumerians may have used opium and Egyptians mandrake, and around a similar time, juniper and coca were put the the same use.

A popular anaesthetic in England between ~1200 and 1500 was Dwale – a mixture of varying composition containing opium and hemlock as well as lettuce, bile and bryony. Mandrake roots were chewed, extracting the active ingredients in doses that varied with chewing time or vigour. This was a risky business: low doses were often insufficient to fully mask the pain of surgery or put the patient to sleep, but at doses not much higher, many of these substances would become fatally toxic. Enough to make you numb just thinking about it. (more…)

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