Elinor Hughes


…of a recent paper from the RSC’s Analyst, followed by the tagline ‘tuppence-based SERS for the detection of illicit materials’. (more…)

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We’re not using our sunscreen properly, according to researchers in Denmark. Bibi Petersen and colleagues at Bispebjerg Hospital in Copenhagen observed 20 sun seekers on a week’s holiday in Hurghada, Egypt, to monitor how often, and when, they applied their sunscreen. ‘Our results led us to suspect that the protective effect of sunscreen use against DNA damage, and thereby skin cancer, is minimal the way sunscreen is used under real sun holiday conditions,’ said the researchers. It’s all to do with the time the sunscreen is applied and how thickly it’s applied. (more…)

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Gamers could put their skills to use to diagnose diseases in the future. A set of digital games, for example BioGames, would allow users to make decisions or label microscopic images of specimens on their PCs, tablets and mobile phones. This solution to sorting through large quantities of medical data was thought up by Aydogan Ozcan and colleagues at the University of California, Los Angeles, US.

 

With more and more cheap and portable digital imaging and sensing devices being developed, huge amounts of biomedical data from all over the world are going to be generated. The data will provide an opportunity to understand disease patterns in different parts of the world, for example. But there aren’t enough medical experts to sort through all this data.

That is why Ozcan is turning to gamers for help. In their latest experiment, Ozcan’s team asked 1000 people from over 60 countries to look at grids containing microscope images of red blood cell samples to pick out the cells infected with malaria. They used a stain that makes the cells infected with malaria appear blue. The gamers’ job was to kill or bank infected and healthy cells, respectively. Ozcan’s team measured the diagnostic accuracy of the responses and found that the accuracy level was comparable to those of expert medical professionals. To ensure that accuracy was maintained, the gamers were assessed individually based on their responses.

The BioGames programme

The BioGames interface was made available on the internet in May 2012 and Ozcan reports that more than 2150 gamers from 77 countries have registered on their servers. They have already generated more than 1.5 million individual cell diagnoses.

Of course the idea isn’t new. In 2011, Chemistry World featured a piece about using people’s computers for drug discovery and simulating the way proteins fold. Gamers weren’t needed this time though as the work was happening in the background while the computers were in idle mode.

Other crowd-sourcing websites include Fold it, which enables the user to contribute to research into diseases by folding proteins and Galaxy Zoo, where the user can help astronomers explore the universe.

You don’t always have to wear a lab coat to contribute to science.

Elinor Hughes

 

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Archimedes’ principle does not work in the nanoworld. So say Roberto Piazza, from Milan Polytechnic in Italy, and his colleagues. The principle, a law of physics established 23 centuries ago, states that a body immersed in a fluid is buoyed up by a force equal to the weight of the fluid it displaces, but, as Piazza has found, this does not hold for objects a millionth of a millimetre in size. (more…)

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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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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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Bluebells growing in the Snowdonia National Park

Each Spring, on a farm set against the beautiful backdrop of the Snowdonia mountain range in North Wales, Vera Thoss is rewarded with a sight that makes the view even better – an impressive carpet of bluebells covering the land. Vera encourages the growth of the wild British bluebell (Hyacinthoides non-scripta) on her farm and is the only licensed bluebell seller in Wales. (more…)

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First it was the snails, now it’s the turn of the clams to be plugged in and used as living batteries. The same group of scientists from the US and Israel, led by Evgeny Katz, has now implanted biofuel cells into clams and integrated them into batteries. (more…)

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We’ve had the heart on a chip, kidney on a chip and brain on a chip. Now, we’ve got another body part on a chip – the gut. (more…)

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Recently elected president of the International Union of Crystallography, Gautam Desiraju, talks to the RSC journal CrystEngComm, about the lack of support for science and the growth of crystal engineering. (more…)

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