Phillip Broadwith


The Pittsburgh Conference, or PittCon as it’s affectionately known, is one of the biggest lab equipment trade fairs on the planet. There are hundreds of exhibitors dazzling audiences with their latest shiny new instruments.

Everything is that little bit better, faster, more reliable than the competition in some way or another, and as a self-confessed amateur when it comes to most of this kit, it can be hard to see through the spiel to find out what’s really groundbreaking. But a few little things have caught my eye on my wander around the exhibition hall. (more…)

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It’s funny the things that you see on Twitter. When this tweet appeared from RetractionWatch guru Ivan Oransky, it got me wondering why a Pharma company like GSK would be selling off over 350 paintings.

A quick call to GSK’s Philadelphia,US, office provided the simple explanation. According to company spokesperson Jennifer Armstrong, GSK is moving its Philadelphia operations to a brand new building, which opens this weekend. ‘The new workspace is completely open, without any individual offices, so we don’t have so many interior walls to hang artwork. The walls we do have are also used for other purposes – they’re either glass, or for writing on or tacking things to,’ she says.

GSK's new Philadelphia home

GSK’s new Philadelphia home

(more…)

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Modern computer games consoles have controllers that vibrate – when you crash your car in a racing game or get shot in a shoot-em-up, you get a jolt through your fingers, which is designed to increase the realism of the game and enhance your experience.

Imagine if you could do the same thing with chemistry. You sketch out some molecules, then move them together to see if (or how) they will react. As virtual electron clouds approach each other, they push back, resisting your efforts to push them any closer. You try different angles until you find the right geometry, or push hard enough to force them to react with each other. (more…)

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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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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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Brian Kobilka

Brian Kobilka is probably having a pretty good day today.

Not only is he in Stockholm delivering his Nobel lecture and settling down for a banquet with the  Swedish royal family as he picks up his medal for this year’s Nobel prize in chemistry, but he has a paper in Nature today as well.

Is this timing purely a coincidence, or a subtle tribute on the part of the Nature editors? The more cynical among you may call it good marketing, but I’d like to think of it as a metaphorical doff of the cap.

Kobilka, a relatively press-shy academic from Stanford University in California, US, was thrust into the limelight in October when he shared this year’s chemistry Nobel with his former mentor, Bob Lefkowitz. You can read more about the pair and their work on G-protein coupled receptors (GPCRs) in my feature article.

The latest paper is yet another in a long line of GPCR structures that Kobilka and his team have solved, showing  protease activated receptor 1 (PAR1) bound to cancer drug vorapaxar. The drug binds very strongly to the receptor, and the structure throws a little light on why that is.

I hope all this year’s Nobel laureates enjoy today’s festivities, it is certainly a well-earned party!

Phillip Broadwith

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Over at CENtral Science, they’re having a food chemistry blog carnival in the run up to Thanksgiving. As my contribution, I thought I’d share a recent food chemistry encounter with you all…

Whether you prefer butterscotch, toffee, honeycomb hokey pokey, spun sugar, nut brittle or the unctuous dulce di leche, caramelised sugar is a sticky treat that goes straight to the heart of most people’s idea of pleasure on a plate (or in a bowl of icecream…)

The chemistry of caramelisation is fascinating, but the other day, while I was settled in front of the TV to catch up on the Great British bake off masterclass on crème caramel, the description of the process had me shouting indignantly at the screen. (more…)

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Pseudevernia furfuracea

Pseudevernia furfuracea

Pseudevernia furfuracea - the source of 'tree moss' extract. Credit: Wikimedia Commons/Stemonitis

In various news outlets over the past few days, a lot of noise has been made about the EU calling for a ban on some of the signature ingredients of Chanel No 5 and other high-end perfumes.

These stories stem from an opinion report by the European commission’s scientific committee on consumer safety. The opinion report expands on a list of fragrance ingredients that are demonstrated to cause allergies, and suggests that some should be banned. Perfume makers are currently required to list 26 ingredients on the packaging of products that contain them.

The new list comprises 82 ‘established allergens’ and many more ingredients identified as ‘likely’ or ‘potential’ allergens. That list includes 54 individual chemical ingredients and 28 natural extracts, and it is the inclusion of one specific extract that is causing the majority of the fuss. (more…)

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My mugshot, for those who want to put a face to the name

In response to SeeArrOh’s ChemCoach carnival call, here is an insight into my small part as a cog in the inner workings of Chemistry World towers.

Your current job
I am one of two staff Science Correspondents for Chemistry World magazine. I am responsible for writing news and feature articles covering the whole range of chemistry research, industry, policy etc. I also edit two of our regular columns – Classic kit from the excellent Andrea Sella, and Totally synthetic, written by Paul Docherty (who some of you may know was once my lab- and flat-mate. It’s great when you can keep in touch with friends through your daily work.)

What you do in a standard “work day”
Like Carmen and a lot of others have mentioned, the nature of my role is very fluid. I can be writing and researching articles on anything from Rydberg atoms to Nobel prizes from one day to the next. That means I get to meet and speak to all sorts of interesting people, from the top researchers and industrialists around the world, to politicians and policymakers.

My usual day is spent hunting for news stories in journals and other sources (I read way more journals now than I ever did as a student), before our daily news meeting where we decide what we’re going to cover from what’s been found that day. Then I’ll be writing, researching or editing my latest pieces.

(more…)

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