ChemWeb Newsletter

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Worrying news of the long-term effects of the Exxon Valdez disaster emerge this week. Other chemistry matters discussed include Snowflake and Star of David motifs form a fractal molecule and safety considerations of painkillers after a heart attack. Also in the chemical news headlines this week, golden balls surface and Sussex is saved.

Seventeen years after Exxon Valdez ran aground spilling its oily guts with devastating effect on Alaska's Prince William Sound, compelling new evidence has emerged that shows remnants of the worst oil spill in U.S. history extend farther into tidal waters than previously thought. Research by chemist Jeffrey Short and colleagues at the National Marine Fisheries Service in Juneau, Alaska, suggest that the oil is causing unanticipated long-term harm to wildlife. The researchers, who publish their finding in Environmental Science & Technology in June, explain that "This study shows that it is very plausible that exposure to Exxon Valdez oil is having a material impact on many shore-dwelling animals and is contributing to their slow recovery in some parts of Prince William Sound." Short adds that, "Sea otters, for instance, have yet to re-inhabit Herring Bay, the most oiled bay we studied, and the population of otters elsewhere around northern Knight Island continues to decline." Unfortunately, much of the oil is buried in beach sediments so is not exposed to the elements that would otherwise degrade it. "It could remain hazardous to wildlife for decades," says Short.

George Newkome of University of Akron and colleagues at Ohio University and Clemson University have developed a non-branching fractal polymer molecule they say could lead to new types of photoelectric cells, molecular batteries and energy storage. Writing in the journal Science, used a self-assembly approach with meta(bis-terpyridinyl)benzene to construct a 6-iron, 36-ruthenium molecule that forms a Sierpinski hexagonal gasket structure that is almost flat but has a hollow center. The molecule was sprayed on to a gold substrate and imaged with scanning tunneling microscopy. "This man-made structure is one of the first nanoscale, non-branched fractal molecules ever produced," said Newkome.

Robert Gorman, a medical doctor and associate professor of surgery at the University of Pennsylvania has put a dampener on the idea that the painkiller Acetaminophen might be useful in protecting the heart after cardiac arrest, but has also shown that it is safe to use. Research on rabbits and sheep suggest that the drug might be useful in reducing pain and fever after a heart attack but offers no cardioprotective effect. The new results conflict with an earlier study using dogs, which demonstrated that acetaminophen could reduce the area affected by a heart attack by 22%. Gorman explains that the difference may be due in part to dogs having a greater abundance of blood vessels than humans, rabbits, and sheep. Other studies have suggested that non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) can increase the risk of stroke and heart attack.

Physicist Lai-Sheng Wang of Washington State University and colleagues have produced hollow golden balls, nanoscopic gold clusters composed of just 16, 17 or 18 atoms. Wang worked with the late Rick Smalley at Rice University on the carbon cages that became known as buckyballs. He is one of several scientists that have attempted to make metallic analogues of the all-carbon molecules. "Au-16 is beautiful and can be viewed as the smallest golden cage," Wang says. Topologically the cluster appears as if one had "removed the four corner atoms from the Au-20 pyramid and then letting the remaining atoms relax a little." This results in a hollow cluster into which the researchers will soon try to trap a single atom of another element.

An extraordinary meeting of University's council voted not to close the chemistry department at the University of Sussex. Sussex chemistry which was threatened with closure and the formation of a new wider-reaching biology will now be retained and expanded to accommodate biochemistry. The department has produced two Nobel chemists, namely Sir John Cornforth, 1975 winner for his work on the stereochemistry of enzyme-catalyzed reactions and Sir Harry Kroto (1996) for his co-discovery of the fullerenes. The threatened closure was just one in a growing line of departmental decline across the UK and it being saved represents a major victory for chemistry. The Royal Society of Chemistry welcomed the vote and observes that the UK government will make more money available to university vice-chancellors to preclude budgetary decisions of this nature having to be made in future.