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Mission controllers at Nasa’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) have turned off some of their instruments for a few weeks and have sent many of their staff on holiday. Communications between Earth and their spacecraft on Mars will diminish during this period. 

But do not fear, this is not an extraordinary event. It happens every two years, lasts for about two weeks and is due to a solar conjunction. To explain it in a few words, it means that Earth and Mars are at opposite sides of the Sun, which is obscuring the two planets and is thus preventing regular communication between us and the red planet. It is an interesting phenomenon and, if you are curious, you can watch this video and find out how it affects the work at Nasa.

In any case, this is the fifth solar conjunction for Mars Exploration Rover Opportunity since its arrival in 2004 and will be the first one for Curiosity.

You would think that with so many Nasa staff on holiday we would hear less about the explorations on the red planet. And you would be so wrong… In fact, taking advantage of the enforced break, institutions worldwide have invited those working on the rovers to give public lectures about their work so there will be plenty of talks about Mars in the coming weeks.

© NASA/JPL-Caltech

At the RSC we couldn’t let this opportunity go by and will be hosting not one but two events with two different speakers from Nasa to discuss the adventures of  Curiosity.

The first of the two talks will be hosted by the Northern Ireland Assembly’s All-Party Group on Science and Technology, in conjunction with Matrix, and will feature a presentation by Nagin Cox, formerly Deputy Head of Engineering for Nasa’s Mars Curiosity Rover. This will be on Monday 15 April from 3.30pm to 5.00pm, in the Senate Chamber, Parliament Buildings, Stormont, Belfast. If you live near and want to attend you can register here.

The second event, named Where the streets have no name, will be in London on Thursday 18 April at 6.30pm and will be streamed live online so anyone can watch from anywhere in the world!  Mars rovers’ driver Paolo Bellutta, who also works at Nasa JPL, will talk about his work, and driving Curiosity and other rovers on Mars.

The Chair for the evening will be Quentin Cooper, presenter of BBC Radio 4’s Material World, and he’ll be taking questions via @RSC_Comms and #RSCpubliclecture. 

Also, don’t forget you can follow Curiosity and Opportunity via twitter at @MarsCuriosity and @MarsRovers. The planets will soon move away from the conjunction and you will once again be able to receive first-hand information on the latest mission to Mars!

 Chiara Ceci

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Giorgio De Faveri is a PhD student in the school of biological and chemical sciences at Queen Mary, University of London

I am not British, my name probably gives that away. I obtained my degree in chemistry in Italy, my home country, and I moved to London for my PhD. It was not an easy decision at the time, leaving friends, family and my old life behind to move to a different country, to a different language; to start everything again from the beginning.

I moved to the UK because I saw more opportunities than I had back home; more funding for research, better career chances and, let me be a bit venal here, better money for my PhD. I can very easily relate with the fear induced by the impending cuts to education and research proposed by the current government, to the possibility of a ‘brain drain’ like the one that has been happening in my country for years.

(more…)

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The Lhasa Limited symposium held last week in Leeds, UK, on toxicity prediction left delegates armed with a new understanding of the discipline.

armouries_outside_view

The Leeds Royal Armouries (UK) was an apt venue for a discussion on the future of toxicity prediction and speaker after speaker drew from their own personal armoury of arguments about what they see on the horizon for predictive toxicology.

First up was Thomas Hartung, Director for the Center for Alternatives to Animal Testing (CAAT) at Johns Hopkins University, US, who talked about revolution – not the kind involving arms but of a ‘real revolution in regulatory toxicity’. He spoke passionately about the contrasting approaches in Europe versus the US towards the development of new toxicological tools. In the former, he characterised the approach as ‘bottom up’ with a strong focus on the 3R’s principles to replace animal testing (replacement, refinement and reduction), while in the US, he spoke of the ‘top down’ approach characterised by the ‘Tox-21c’ vision, where programmed research is carried out and commissioned. For Hartung, the two approaches are two sides of the same coin, and more importantly, he believes, if brought together can result in a Human Toxicology Project and a revolution in the regulation of toxicology.

(more…)

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What do you think of the new periodic table published in the paper “Newlands Revisited” at Foundations of Chemistry 2010, 12: 85-93?

marks-brothers-periodic-table

Ed. It’s an interesting one – there are lots of ‘alternative’ periodic tables in Eric Scerri’s feature article from March 2009 (RSC Members only, I’m afraid), but the authors of this one say that it has been put together ‘explicitly for chemists rather than physicists’. The paper is open access, so it’d be great to hear what blog readers think!

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Great idea to have a poll on the UK parties for the upcoming General Election. But if all of your 3 named parties promise cuts to the science budget in the UK when other countries are investing in R&D could we consider a ‘non of the above’ box or an ‘any party wanting to increase investment in science to secure the long term future of the UK’ box?

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Once again a merger lines the pockets of senior management and makes several thousand face workers redundant! It’s about time these people, in so called high places, realise that big isn’t necessarily beautiful. Some of the best research carried out these days is done in small companies with minimal interference and in university laboratories.

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The idea that people are not more than casual detritus accumulated over the years and the company should be occasionally cleansed of these impediments like barnacles off a boat hull is just one of the insanities brought us by capitalism.

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Testing combinations of chemicals could be seen as a laudable but impractical suggestion. It is unlikely that many of the Ministers will have been on an elementary course in statistics, but just to help them, the formula for calculating the number of possible combinations from maths is fun is n/r where n is the whole number of things that you could chose from and r is the number of things that you want to chose.

If ultimately we end up with 10,000 chemicals covered by Reach then for each product containing 30 of these chemicals (say Shampoo) there are 330 ways that they can be combined if each is used only once (I think). If that’s the situation for each item in the bathroom, and you rashly use shampoo, conditioner and then body wash, dry yourself on a towel that’s seen conditioner and rinsed with softened water, then decide to put on some deodorant, and aftershave/perfume. There is clearly an exposure to chemicals. I think that the number of combinations of chemicals that you could be exposed to must be about 6X330 or 2000 combinations of chemicals. BEFORE we start looking at how the amount of chemical affects the interaction between them.

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The Chemistry World Entrepreneur of the Year Award recognises an individual’s contribution to the commercialisation of research. The winner of the award will be featured in Chemistry World, read by 65,000+ people, therefore receiving valuable free press coverage. They will also receive £4,000.

Other RSC Industry & Technology related awards which mat be of interest include:

Applied Catalysis Award
Corrosion Science Award
Inspiration & Industry Award
Young Industrialist of the Year Award
Process Technology Award
Teamwork in Innovation Award

Nominations are welcome from both organisations and individuals and candidates are permitted to nominate themselves.

For more information about industry and technology related awards and to make a nomination please click here.

Prizes & Awards in other areas of the chemical sciences are also open for nomination.

Remember that the nomination deadline is 31 January 2010.

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Phillip Broadwith summarised briefly the ASAP JOC article by Simon and Goodman on the consequences of the geometry of hydrogen bonds during enzyme catalysis.

I might be wrong, but after having read the original article, I would put the emphasis slightly different.

Following the Hammond postulate, a certain similarity is expected for the geometry of the Ground State (GS) and Transition State (TS) for exothermic reactions, thus stabilisation of both states via one set of hydrogen bonds should not come as a surprise.

The authors of the JOC article assume that the optimal – most stabilising – hydrogen bond orientation is the same for GS and TS. Both energy levels are dropping, but the energy difference is still the barrier (the hill) between the two states.

The authors found that a suboptimal dihedral angle is a little less destabilising for the TS than for the GS. In other words, the overall barrier shrinks with the consequence that the enzymatic reaction becomes faster.

It is not directly my field, but how many enzyme transition states are exactly known (to my knowledge, the first one was around 2003, Science)?

Goodman and Simon write in their conclusion, that “Unlike water, enzymes can choose to orient their hydrogen bonds to stabilize the transition state slightly less well than is optimal, in order to stabilize the substrate much less well than is possible with the same number of hydrogen bonds.”

Maybe I missed the point, but does this necessarily exclude the possibility that the TS is actually well stabilised but slightly different in geometry than anticipated?

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