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We had an unusual request to the Chemistry World office this week. A producer from Simon Mayo’s BBC Radio 2 drivetime programme wanted to know if it’s possible to make a diamond from human hair.

Pelé before the final game of his career, Giants Stadium, New Jersey, 1 October 1977. From elliberal.com.ar on a CC-BY-3.0 licence

The query was prompted by the news that Brazilian football legend Pelé had announced a range of diamonds, each made from a strand of his hair, to commemorate each of the 1283 goals he scored in his professional football career.

It seemed a fairly straightforward request – there’s plenty of carbon in hair and it’s certainly possible to make diamond industrially from a carbon source – so I volunteered to take the call. (more…)

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The 13th conference in the highly successful International Symposia on Advancing the Chemical Sciences (ISACS) series is taking place in Dublin, Ireland, this July and there’s still time to submit a poster abstract. Extensive poster sessions will form a key part of the symposium and Chemistry World is delighted to be sponsoring a prize for the best poster at the event. The winner will receive £250.

Challenges in Inorganic and Materials Chemistry (ISACS13) will bring together leading experts from several disciplines and encourage the cross fertilisation of ideas. Keynote speakers include David Parker from Durham University and Matt Rosseinsky from the University of Liverpool.

To take advantage of this excellent opportunity to showcase your latest research alongside leading scientists from across the globe submit your poster abstract before 21 April

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Just when we all thought the tube couldn’t get any worse, frustrated commuters in London last week were treated to the news that, due to an engineering mishap, a signal control room for the Victoria line had become flooded with fast-setting concrete, forcing the line to temporarily halt.

© UsVsTh3m/Twitter

© UsVsTh3m/Twitter

Then things got even weirder… the news reported that when the sludgy mess was discovered, staff had rushed to nearby shops to buy bags of sugar to throw on it. This, they said, ‘stops the concrete from setting so quickly’ so it could be cleaned up before it damaged equipment. This intrigued us in CW office – why sugar? It seems bizarre that something so simple and readily available could have this effect. (more…)

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Does flushing condoms down the toilet pose a risk to aquatic ecosystems? An initial study published in Environmental Science: Processes & Impacts suggests that they don’t.

Filters at wastewater treatment plants are not fail-safe when it comes to removing condoms. Materials degrade en-route so smaller particles can sneak through filters and flooding can result in effluent bypassing treatment procedures completely.

Distribution of predicted condom derivative concentrations (µg/L) across the Ouse and Derwent region of England: (a) annual average concentrations after applying a 50 % screening efficiency (map identifies the major urban centres); (b) annual average concentrations after applying a 80 % screening efficiency (map identifies the major catchment rivers).

Condom derivative concentrations – Ouse and Derwent catchment

To investigate the scale of the problem, researchers in the UK initiated an anonymous survey quizzing people about how often they flushed condoms down the toilet. The survey, which is part of a wider study that is trying to understand the environmental impact of polymer-based materials and their degradation products, discovered that almost 3% of condoms bought were consigned to the sewers. (more…)

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It’s that time of year again – next week, the winners of this year’s round of Nobel prizes are due to be announced. We’re certainly getting pretty excited at Chemistry World HQ and, as usual, the predictions have been flying around.

For physics, the big question isn’t so much ‘what?’ as ‘who?’ will take home the prize this year. Most people seem to agree that the discovery of the Higgs boson is the strongest contender. But as there are a handful of theorists and experimental teams who were involved in its discovery – and a maximum of three can share the prize – who will be deemed worthy of the physics Nobel is anyone’s guess.

But what about the chemistry prize? As usual, Thomson Reuters have generated their list of predictions using most cited topics and authors. They do this every year and claim to have correctly predicted more Nobel prize winners than anyone else, having accurately forecast 27 winners over the last 11 years. I’m not so sure they’ll be right about the chemistry prize this time around though, as some of the innovations they’ve picked seem a little too recent. Alongside modular click chemistry and the Ames test for mutagenicity, they highlight DNA nanotechnology as a potential winner, and named none other than this year’s CW entrepreneur of the year Chad Mirkin as one of the leaders in this field. While the range of potential applications of DNA nanotech is huge, I think it’s still a little too early for this to be Nobel-worthy…but you never know! (more…)

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There’s no doubt that the evolution of drug-resistant antibacterial is a worrying trend. Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) may have taken most of the headlines, but while we’ve been discussing how best to wash our hands in hospital wards, other, more insidious resistant bacteria have come to the fore.

Medical illustration of extended-spectrum β-lactamase – Image courtesy of the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention

In March, Sally Davies, the UK’s Chief Medical Officer described antimicrobial resistance as posing a ‘catastrophic threat’. And recently, Tom Frieden, Director of the US Centres of Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), warned ‘If we are not careful, we will soon be in a post-antibiotic era … and for some patients and for some microbes, we are already there.’

This month saw the publication of a two key reports: the UK five year antimicrobial resistance strategy 2013 to 2018  published by the Department of Health and Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs; and the CDC tome Antibiotic resistance threats in the United States, 2013. In a little over 140 pages between them they scan the landscape, identifying and, for the first time, classifying the threats posed by antibiotic resistant bacteria. (more…)

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Sometimes people like to moan that chemistry doesn’t get enough media attention, but we have news to counter this claim. Our colleagues have let us know that this weekend the BBC World Service will be broadcasting an episode of The Forum, which was recorded last week at the RSC’s ISACS12 conference, Challenges in Chemical Renewable Energy.

Quentin Cooper hosts the programme with Daniel Nocera of Harvard University, Clare Grey of the University of Cambridge, Carlos Henrique de Brito Cruz of the State University of Campinas and Jim Watson of the UK Energy Research Council. The panel will discuss the work in their areas of expertise and future challenges for renewable energy as a whole. If you want to listen in, the programme will be broadcast at 23.06 GMT on Saturday 14September, 10.06 GMT on Sunday 15 September and 2.06 GMT on Monday 16 September and you can find out when this is in your local time at: http://www.bbc.co.uk/worldservice/programmeguide/.

It will also be available to listen on the iPlayer shortly after the broadcasts have finished at http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p01g94yj. Make sure to let us know what you think.

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cannabiYesterday evening, over dinner, my friend and I couldn’t help but overhear a man on another table espousing the benefits of cannabis. Over a tiramisu, he stressed how cannabis can cure all ills including cancer and Alzheimer’s (There is some pre-clinical evidence, for these claims, but not all of the literature agrees). What our pro-cannabis lobbyist failed to mention, however, is that the modern cannabis is increasingly ditching the health giving cannabinoids in favour of more and more of the psychoactive tetrahydrocannabinol (THC). (more…)

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This time last year, millions of us watched live (online and late at night, in my case) as a portable science lab the size of a family car landed on the surface of Mars.  Now Curiosity, the Mars science laboratory, is celebrating its first birthday and a year of successful science.

A self-portrait composite image of Curiosity. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

A self-portrait composite image of Curiosity. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

I hope that the event of the landing itself will go down in scientific history. Although not as iconic as the Moon landing, Curiosity’s touchdown was extremely ambitious – Nasa’s engineers devised a controlled descent system that involved lowering the rover from a rocket powered ‘sky crane’, so that it could be placed with its wheels on the ground, ready to rove. The entire process took just a few minutes, now dubbed the ‘7 minutes of terror’. Watch a video of the event and you’ll see that this isn’t a bad description – there’s more tension packed into those 420 seconds than in any feature-length Hollywood thriller. (more…)

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 It’s good news!! Chemistry World has been shortlisted for best specialist site for journalism in the Online Media Awards. The awards are well known within the media industry and nominees in other categories include Channel 4 News, Sky News, Al-Jazeera English and the BBC.

Chemistry World is in good company in the specialist category and faces tough competition from the Press Gazette, the Guardian data website and Nursing Times.

The awards ceremony will take place in London on 12 June and we will know then whether we won or not. Wish us luck!

Bibiana Campos Seijo

PS: For the full list of nominations and to see who we are up against you can go here.

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