Bea Perks


Following scare stories a few years ago that the health benefits of tea are cancelled out by the addition of milk, researchers at Unilever now report that this looks rather unlikely. (more…)

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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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Japan location map with side map of the Ryukyu Islands: Maximilian Dörrbecker (Chumwa) The full effects of the devastating earthquake and subsequent tsunami on Japan’s chemical industry remain to be seen, but chemistry and the industries it supports have clearly been hit hard.

Much of Japan’s chemical industry is at a near standstill, according to a report in Chemical and Engineering News, and the country has called for international help to avert a nuclear disaster after a third reactor at the quake-stricken Fukushima power plant risked going into meltdown.

While Japan might be keeping quiet about the full extent of the damage, commentators in the UK are in full flow. Over at the Financial Times, Nick Butler of the King’s Policy Institute at King’s College London, speculates: ‘If the situation at Fukushima deteriorates with a significant release of radioactive material, international confidence in the sector will be destroyed’.  While at the Daily Mail, former newspaper editor and war correspondent Max Hastings is urging Britain to keep nuclear power in its plans for a credible energy future: ‘…remember that the Fukushima plant is 40 years old. Britain does not suffer earthquakes on any significant scale.’

Speculation is rife but, as we watch the story unfold, Martyn Poliakoff explains what must be going on inside those nuclear reactors.




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A sophisticated chemistry laboratory, packed into a room-sized container, travels up and down the Boulder Atmospheric Observatory (BAO) in Erie, Colo., to sample the atmosphere from the ground up to nearly 1,000 feet. (NOAA) Scientists at the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administation (NOAA) have embarked on a month-long study of the chemistry of cold winter air near the Rocky Mountains. The atmosphere in winter is made up of layers that don’t mix well, so sampling the air at ground level doesn’t tell the whole story. To get round the problem, the researchers have installed a ‘tower laboratory’ that carries more than a tonne of instrumentation up and down a 300 metre tower, analysing the chemistry at different heights. (more…)

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Two double-crested cormorants and a fish (Mila Zinkova)

Fish-eating sea birds, like cormorants, are exposed to mercury through their diet, but female cormorants turn out to be better than males at dealing with the potentially toxic contaminant.

Although mercury is a natural trace element, methylated mercury is released industrially, for example by coal-fired power stations. It is toxic and biomagnifies through food webs,  putting animals that are further up the food chain – like the double-crested cormorant – at greater risk. The toxic effects of methylmercury in sea birds reportedly include reduced reproduction and suppressed immune function.

(more…)

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Olive oil

US researchers have found that a cell receptor called TRPA1 is activated by two apparently unrelated anti-inflammatory agents – the well known anti-inflammatory ibuprofen, and the rather less well known anti-inflammatory, olive oil (or, more specifically, a component of olive oil called oleocanthal).

The TRPA1 receptor is found at the back of the throat, which leads the researchers, whose data are published in the Journal of Neuroscience, to conclude that it is responsible for the slight stinging sensation you get with some of the more expensive extra virgin olive oils.

‘Oleocanthal and ibuprofen are chemically unrelated, yet both are potent anti-inflammatory compounds that activate the TRPA1 receptor and cause sensory irritation,’ says corresponding author Gary Beauchamp of the Monell Chemical Senses Center in Philadelphia, US.

Lead author Catherine Peyrot des Gachons points out that the two anti-inflammatory agents promote irritation and pain. ‘These two facts seems antagonistic and excitingly mysterious from a scientific perspective,’ she concludes.

Bea Perks

Reference: C Peyrot des Gachons et al, J. Neurosci., 2011, 31, 999, DOI:10.1523/JNEUROSCI.1374-10.2011

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Contraceptive pill2010 saw the 50th anniversary of the contraceptive pill. At Chemistry World we marked the occasion with an article in our September issue which looked at the history of the discovery.

This article inspired me to select Carl Djerassi as my hero. Now emeritus professor of chemistry at Stanford University, US, and accomplished novelist and playwright, he is best known for his contribution to the development of the first oral contraceptive pill. Obviously, from a scientific point of view his work is very well known and at the time became a major breakthrough; however, my choice is based on the fact that his invention changed the very fabric of society and affects to this day the life of many women around the world.

(more…)

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Christmas dinner

To all potential fathers in the upcoming festive season, it might be worth taking note of a study linking your diet with the gene function of your future offspring.


(more…)

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Bea finds her inner child as she continues our Christmas chemistry series…

My perfect chemistry Christmas gift has to be something from the Wild Science range. I’ve bought my niece the Bath Bomb factory (think we’re safe, pretty sure she doesn’t read the CW blog). Curiously, when I opened the box, there was a note warning that it’s not suitable for the under 10’s – who might choke on the balloons. I look forward to finding out what children are supposed to be doing with the balloons.

(more…)

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Japanese researchers who have compared the proteins in emu and chicken egg white, focussing on the structures of proteins known to trigger allergic reactions, report that emu egg white has an unusually low allergenicity. Chicken egg white is, according to the researchers, ‘one of the most common allergenic foods’. (more…)

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