ChemWeb Newsletter

Not a subscriber? Join now.October 13, 2004


The Alchemist Newsletter is back from a well deserved vacation and a move from London to Los Angeles. Now published by, the newsletter and the ChemWeb site will continue to be offered as free services. We are working on some exciting new features for both and ChemWeb, and will notify our users by email in the weeks to come. Please contact the with your comments and suggestions.

This, of course, is the Nobel issue in which we report on this year's Chemistry Prize. We also find out about a spit test that could save squeamish patients from the needle and why a boomerang might bring about a new type of portable NMR machine. We also hear how NIST is studying the effects of water chlorination on pharmaceutical residues and how a spectroscopy lab is keeping a close eye on Mount St Helens.

Three scientists share this year's Nobel Prize in Chemistry which has a distinctly biological flavor. Aaron Ciechanover and Avram Hershko of Technion, the Israel Institute of Technology, in Haifa, share the $1.3million prize money with Irwin Rose of the University of California, Irvine, for their discovery of ubiquitin-mediated protein degradation. These three researchers swam against the scientific tide of the early 1980s to find an answer to the question, "how does the cell break down its waste proteins?" Their questioning ultimately revealed one of the cell's most important cyclical processes with implications for our understanding of life and the treatment of disease.

The days of painful blood tests at the clinic could soon be gone, thanks to research carried out by scientists at the Oregon Health & Science University School of Dentistry in Portland. They have shown that proteins that act as markers for disease in the blood can also be detected in the saliva using a sensitive mass spectrometry technique. Fluid leakage from the gum line means that biotechnologists might be able to develop spit or lick test-strips for a variety of diseases. The research, one might say, could ultimately save patients from getting the needle.

Researchers at the California Institute of Technology have developed a novel approach to nuclear magnetic resonanance spectroscopy they call BOOMERANG. This fanciful acronym is typical of the way new techniques are named in the field of NMR and stands for Better Observation Of Magnetization, Enhanced Resolution And No Gradient. BOOMERANG was developed by Daniel Weitekamp and his colleagues in the Arthur Amos Noyes Laboratory of Chemical Physics. Their novel approach to NMR could mark a return to the fore of efforts to develop portable NMR instruments for examining solids and surfaces at the microscopic and nanometre scales.

The fate of painkillers, antibiotics and other pharmaceutical products once they reach the wastewater stream is uncertain. In order to remedy that situation, researchers at the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) are using laboratory experiments to study the effects of chlorine- containing disinfectants commonly used in wastewater treatment on such products. Measurement techniques and data collected by NIST should help laboratories around the world investigate the putative health and environmental effects of pharmaceuticals in our wastewater.

Gas sensing and infrared coupled with geologic observation flights are allowing volcanologists to keep a close eye on the status of Mount St Helens, the active Volcano in Washington State, USA, threatening a major eruption at the time of writing. Michael Ramsey, assistant professor in the department of geology and planetary science at the University of Pittsburgh is on the frontline in analyzing data from the volcano. Ramsey established the Image Visualization and Infrared Spectroscopy Lab at the university in 2000. He told the Pittsburgh Tribune Review, "It's important to get out there and get as much data as we can." His work and the efforts of others will help in the development of early-warning systems to make living close to any volcano a less risky occupation.