Guest post by Rowena Fletcher-Wood

I first heard the story of the discovery of nylon during a chemistry class in school – it was told as a serendipitous discovery. A young lab assistant, clearing up at the end of a long day, clumsily poured two mixtures in together and noticed a precipitate. Dipping in a stirring rod, he pulled out a thin string, which he stretched out into a tough, translucent fibre. He realised the potential of his discovery, reported it to his superiors and left them to the tiresome job of working out what he had done to make it.

The invention of nylon created a revolution in hosiery
©Shutterstock

It’s funny how we use accident to shape our understanding of discovery and achievement, as though we want to excuse hard work and apologise for years of learning. It’s somehow disappointing, unromantic: the story of research whisks away that tantalising fantasy of stumbling upon treasure, reserving discovery for the experts.

The real story of nylon, interesting though it may be, is a bit of stretch from serendipity. (more…)

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Guest post by Rowena Fletcher-Wood

Among the many accidental discoveries through the ages is an experiment designed to probe carbon molecules in space, which unearthed a new terrestrial molecule.

Harry Kroto with buckyballs
© Science Photo Library

It all happened in an 11-day whirl, between 1 September 1985, when Harry Kroto first arrived at Rice University, US, and 12 September, when he, along with Richard Smalley and Robert Curl, submitted a paper to Nature: C60 Buckminsterfullerene’. Eleven years later, in 1996, the three were awarded the Nobel prize for chemistry.

(more…)

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OK, so the factoid about it being a by-product of the space race is completely wrong – but the true story behind its discovery is a lot more quirky. Get to grips with the non-stick chemistry behind PTFE in this week’s Chemistry in its element podcast.

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The results of this year’s National Student Survey, published today, show that the employment prospects for chemistry graduates are mixed. While around 80 per cent of chemistry graduates from ’top’ universities like Durham, Imperial and Oxford quickly find good jobs, the results are worse elsewhere. The figures appear to be worrying for the University of Edinburgh and University College London, from which only just over half of graduates were in appropriate level jobs six months after completing their courses. (more…)

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Fierce debate has erupted in the Journal of the American Chemical Society (JACS) over a phenomenon known as the anomeric effect. The controversy reminds us once again that while observations are usually verifiable, interpreting results is something all scientists need to play a part in. (more…)

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18 July 2011: Have something to say about an article you’ve read on Chemistry World this week? Leave your comments below…

(more…)

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Coffee stain

© Free-Photo-Galler.org

I’m sure I’m not alone in having a few rings on my desk from mugs of coffee, but I never thought of the stains as being table top chromatography before. However, American chemists at the University of California have used the idea to perform size based particle separation. (more…)

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soup

A suggested list of ingredients can be found in JACS

Last year we published a story about chemistry supporting the RNA world hypothesis, now the same researchers have backed up what they did, and made precursors of the other nucleobases from simple starting blocks.

Using some of the same simple starting materials as they did last year, plus simple aldehydes and hydrogen cyanide, Matthew Powner, John Sutherland and Jack Szostak made an intermediate in the production of purine ribonucleotides. Their chemistry is a one pot synthesis in water, and suggests the first plausible mechanism for prebiotic nucleotide production. (more…)

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Princess Leia

Will my 3D hologram be asking for help soon?

Lucasfilm Ltd

Science fiction can often inspire science and technology, from Star Trek’s sliding doors to erasing bad memories as in Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. Now a new display can allow ‘quasi-real time’ moving holograms, like the 3D communications of Star Wars fame.

This isn’t the first rewritable holographic display from Nasser Peyghambarian at the University of Arizona but this time he and his team have been able to refresh an image quickly. The new system can update the image approximately every 2 seconds, making the prospect of holographic 3D video calls tantalisingly close.

(more…)

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The Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory has been bashing together nuclei again, but this time they were after lighter isotopes of previously discovered heavy elements.
Map of the isotopes and the fabled island of stability

The intrepid expedition towards the island of stability continues. Courtesy of Yuri Oganessian/Joint, Institute for Nuclear Research-Dubna

Many of the 20 strong team (who have published their results in the journal Physical Review Letters) were also involved in the confirmation of element 114 in September 2009, when the scientists made 286114 and 287114.


Traditionally element 114 has been viewed as an important goal for physicists because 298114 should be ‘doubly magic’, with both proton and neutron shells filled, but life’s never easy and other calculations suggest that the magic proton number should be 120 or 126 instead. The Berkley team have managed to make some heavier isotopes of 114 but it’s been hard work and the results haven’t been very stable. So instead of continually trying to add more neutrons to element 114 they decided to try and add less instead. (more…)

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