Guest post from Tom Branson

It’s that time of year again, when all things creepy come out to play. Witches, monsters and of course the grinning pumpkins will be out and about. The humble pumpkin has found itself increasingly popular with artists wishing to outdo each other with their carving skills, but pumpkins have also found a home amongst equally competitive chemists shaping their constructions.

If you’re beginning to think I’ve been hit with a confusion spell then never fear, I’m simply referring to the modest cucurbituril. This molecule gets its name from the term for the pumpkin family. There’s apparently a resemblance between the ribs of the pumpkin and the bonds of the macromolecule. But this similarity is nowhere better shown than in the Halloween themed cover of the latest edition of Chemical Science.

This cover brings us into the darkness of a pumpkin-scientist’s den, light spilling through carved features illuminating the creations within. Looming large on the desk is a ghastly pumpkin, smiling whilst xenon bats flitter in and out of its gaping mouth. The desk is also littered with smaller cucurbiturils and a structure half way through its transmogrification into a fully-fledged pumpkin-xenon-bat-exchanger-thing. On the left side stands an old cage and a bat confined within. A dusty spider’s web blocks the exit, which is also being guarded nearby by acryptophaneunwilling to release its hostage. (more…)

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Guest post by Rowena Fletcher-Wood

Some people are said to be luckier than others, but can the same lucky chance happen twice, to the same person? Harry Coover was a serial inventor, patenting more than 460 inventions in his 94-year life, but his most famous product was discovered by accident.

Superglue in use (©iStock)

In 1951, whilst trying to come up with a heat resistant polymer to make jet canopies from, Harry Coover and Fred Joyner accidentally created a substance that glued two refractometer prisms together with an obstinacy not to be resisted. Joyner began to panic – the prisms were very expensive – but Coover did not: he had seen this reaction before. He had made it. (more…)

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Next week Göran Hansson, Permanent Secretary of the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences, will sit in the academy’s session hall, festooned with lavish paintings of former members such as Carl Linnaeus and Anders Celsius, to announce the 2015 chemistry Nobel prize.

No one knows what the Nobel committee have been discussing in the lead up to this year’s announcement, but we can offer you a peek behind the curtain to see how they think in our exclusive interview series with Bengt Norden, a former chair of the Nobel chemistry committee.

Speculation on the Nobel prize is hotting up…
© CLAUDIO BRESCIANI/epa/Corbis

In the meantime, the predictions for this year’s prize have already begun in earnest. Thomson Reuters have again cast their analytical eye over research citations in the past year to produce their three best educated guesses. (more…)

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Chemistry World was thrilled to sponsor a poster prize at ISACS17 (Challenges in Chemical Renewable Energy), held in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, earlier this month. PhD student Tom Jellicoe from the University of Cambridge, UK, was the winner with his poster titled: Solar photon multiplication through singlet fission down-conversion.

Tom Jellicoe

Tom explains his work:

‘My research looks at charge carrier multiplication in nanocrystal-based photovoltaics – the idea that from one incoming photon you can extract more than one charge carrier pair, generating additional current from high energy light in the solar spectrum that would usually be lost as heat. This is important because conventional solar cells are approaching a fundamental efficiency limit of around 33% known as the Shockley-Queisser limit. One of the largest sources of loss is due to thermalisation of charge-carriers – when a solar cell operates all charge carriers are extracted at the same energy so you extract the same amount of energy from high energy light as low energy light and the excess is lost as heat. The aim of our research is to use the excess energy to generate additional current via a process called singlet fission. We aim to make it generally applicable to state-of-the-art silicon photovoltaics by optically coupling the singlet fission process to the solar cell through luminescent quantum dots. My role is to synthesise the quantum dots which convert the excitations generated from singlet fission into a useable form for the solar cell. (more…)

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Academic chemists are forever quoting one another. Whether word-for-word or paraphrased, journal papers are rich in (properly referenced) quotes from other people’s work, so much so that to be oft quoted (and therefore frequently referenced) is one measure by which we determine a scientist’s value. But not all good chemistry quotes come from ‘the literature’ – quotable chemistry can be found in the well-thumbed pages of textbooks, from behind the lectern at public lectures, in biographies of famous figures and of course, from the vast world of fiction.

Here at Chemistry World we love a good, pithy quote. We sprinkle them into our news, embolden and enlarge them in our features, and use sound bites from our podcast interviews to tempt you to tune in.

What about your favourite chemistry quotations?  We teamed up with the volunteers at the Wikiquote project to help get them the exposure they deserve. To this end we invited our readers to send in their best examples of quotable chemistry, and we are delighted to  announce our favourites from the hundreds that we received. (more…)

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Guest post from Tom Branson

Photographs rarely make an appearance on journal covers and for good reason. How exactly are we meant to capture on film a chemical reaction? Well, Catalysis Science and Technology stuck a wonderful example on the cover a recent edition of the journal. So what is their secret to taking a good photo of the goings-on inside a test tube? Well here’s the trick, you don’t.

(more…)

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On 11 September 2015, Chemistry World will host a panel discussion at the ISACS conference being held in Rio de Janeiro in Brazil. The discussion will  explore how chemical renewable energy can fit into the world’s future energy supply.

Panelists include:

If you want to come along, RSVP here: https://events.rsc.org/rsc/798/home

But if you can’t make it, don’t worry – we’ll be making a video of the best bits. And you can still get involved beforehand – tweet us your questions for the panel with the hashtag #EMix2050, or leave a comment below.

 

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Guest post by Heather Cassell

Sometimes life in the lab can be a quiet and lonely affair. Isolation can creep in if your experiment requires long and unsociable hours, or you’re using a specialised bit of equipment that lives on its own, or simply when your lab mates are not around. The fact that labs often buzz with the hustle and bustle of science in action makes these contrasting moments all the more stark.

©iStock

Not that isolation is always a bad thing – if you are working hard and on a project that takes a lot of concentration then it can be a relief to be on your own. Being antisocial can allow you to get on with what you are doing without being disturbed. But if you have gaps in what you are doing – between multiple short incubation times or centrifuge runs, for example – then being on your own can be a drag and the few minutes you need to wait can feel like an age.

So I keep myself busy: I get useful small lab tasks done (with one eye on the clock), begin planning my next experiment, make sure my notebook is up to date. Sometimes it’s possible to simply sit and enjoy the peace and solitude. If you are lucky enough to work in a lab where you can listen to music on either a communal radio or a personal stereo, then this can really help to pass the time, and as you are on your own you can put on any music that you like, as long as it’s not too loud! (more…)

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Guest post by Rowena Fletcher-Wood

Perhaps, if you spend enough time looking, you can find anything. So it was for Charles Goodyear, a would-be inventor who, at the expense of everything else, bounced back after every failure, devoting his life to transforming natural rubber into a commercially useful material. He saw the potential immediately – just not the chemistry.

The rubber in Goodyear’s hands during the early 1830s wasn’t a particularly useful material. It was temperamental: whilst it exhibited promising properties including elasticity, hydrophobicity, adhesiveness and electrical insulation, when it got hot it would melt and turn into a horrible sticky slime, and when it got cold in the chilly English weather it would become brittle and readily crack.

Looking at the structure of rubber, it all makes sense: a natural cis polymer of isoprene, this allowed it to stretch (whereas the trans polymer of isoprene, gutta-percha, is crystalline) and the chains could readily flow past each other, especially when warmed. Equally, when solidified, splits could propagate rapidly and directionally between the chains of polymers. Goodyear put a lot of time and effort into trying to mop up the runny rubber by mixing it with various different dry powders and attempting to reform it into a ball. But it would take chemical rather than physical methods to get this compound to bend to his will. (more…)

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Oliver Thorn-Seshold

Chemistry World was delighted to sponsor a poster prize at ISACS16 (Challenges in Chemical Biology), held in Zurich, Switzerland, last month. Oliver Thorn-Seshold was the winner with his poster entitled ‘Photoswitchable inhibitors of microtubule dynamics: Photostatins optically control mitosis and cell death.’

Oliver explains his work:

‘My motivation was to take a shot at curative tumour chemotherapy, based on a mechanism that has not been explored for drugs before – reversibly light-targetable cytotoxins.

The idea is to apply the drug globally in the patient, but activate it locally in the tumour by illuminating the tumour zone with pulses of blue light. Outside the tumour zone, the drug should remain inactive. One could therefore use higher doses than conventionally possible, so therapeutic effectiveness can be improved whilst limiting side effects.

(more…)

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