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Small-scale chemistry with a variety of applications that could improve not only healthcare but the environment has led to the Small Times innovation award going to Louisiana Tech's Yuri Lvov, The Alchemist hears this week. Also in chemistry news, old anticancer drugs could be repurposed for treating genetic blood disorders sickle-cell anemia and beta-thalassemia. A barrel of fun is to be hard analyzing wine barrels for dioxins and polyaromatic hydrocarbons, while laser light has been found to switch vanadia films from reflective to transparent without heating, a possible boon for optoelectronics applications. Finally, in this week's Alchemical selection, double-helical nanorings of DNA with single-stranded gaps have been engineered by German scientists while US researchers have demonstrated that pouring millions of dollars and tons of iron into the oceans may not have the desired effect on reducing atmospheric carbon dioxide levels after all.

Anticancer drugs may also be of use in treating sickle-cell anemia, according to a recent study. The work represents the latest research on repositioning new pharmaceutical products in the marketplace. Sickle cell disease (SCD) is an inherited blood disorder caused by a genetic mutation that leads to the generation of a mutant form of the beta-globin chain of hemoglobin (Hb). Now, Calgene's Laure Moutouh-de Parseval and colleagues have shown that two anticancer drugs, lenalidomide and pomalidomide, which modulate the immune system are more effective than the standard SCD treatment, hydroxyurea. The same drugs may also benefit people with the blood disorder beta-thalassemia.

The choice of oak barrel in which a wine will be matured has a profound effect on the bouquet, flavor, and color of the final uncorked product. Toasting the oak staves prior to making a barrel will in turn influence the qualities of the barrel. However, there is a small risk of polyaromatic hydrocarbons and dioxins being formed during toasting that might ultimately leach into the wine. Now, Pascal Chatonnet and Julien Escobessa from Laboratoires Excell have demonstrated how oak staves used to make barrels might be analyzed at various stages of processing. The team found that provided oak toasting takes place at the traditional 200 Celsius, PAHs and dioxins are not formed at hazardous levels, leaving wine as safe a beverage as ever it was.

Laser light can switch a vanadium oxide film between reflective and transparent states without heating or cooling, according to recent research by Vanderbilt University and the teams of Alfred Leitenstorfer of Konstanz University in Germany and Richard Haglund at Vanderbilt University, New York. It is one of the few examples of light being used to induce a direct physical transition without changing a material's temperature. Such "coherent control" has been used previously to control photosynthesis and is being investigated in quantum bit, qubit, research. The work could represent the first step towards a new generation of ultra-fast optical switches for telecommunications.

A simple approach to making rigid DNA nanorings with tailor-made functionality has been developed by Michael Famulok and his team at the University of Bonn, Germany. The development could open up new pathways for the construction of DNA objects with a high level of organization for preparing nanocomposite materials. Famulok's nanorings reveal themselves under the atomic force microscope to be composed of double-stranded DNA with a tiny gap in the form of a short single-stranded fragment. "From the structural point of view, miniature rings represent the simplest form for a rigid object made of DNA," says Famulok. The single-strand gap represents an entry point for functionalizing the nanorings.

Plans to fertilize the oceans with iron or other nutrients in order to absorb atmospheric carbon dioxide and so stave off global warming are unviable, according to scientists at Stanford and Oregon State Universities. Stimulating algal growth, the researchers has found does not lead to increased sequestration of carbon dioxide into deeper waters, suggesting that the invoked "Biological Pump" is leaky. Michael Lutz, formerly at Stanford and now at the University of Miami and colleagues compared the abundance of algae in the surface waters of the world's oceans with the amount of carbon sinking to deep water and found clear seasonal patterns in both algal abundance and carbon sinking rates. However, the relationship between the two was surprising: less carbon was transported to deep water during a summertime bloom than during the rest of the year.

Chemist Yuri Lvov of Louisiana Tech's Institute for Micromanufacturing is Small Times' 2007 Innovator of the Year. Lvov's work has several very disparate applications. For instance, he has pioneered drug reformulation using polyelectrolyte nano-capsules, for stabilizing anticancer drugs. He has also used the same approach to improve cellulose microfibers from recycled paper through polyelectrolyte nanocoating, to boost quality. Lvov, who holds the Tolbert Pipes Eminent Endowed Chair on micro and nanosystems, said while he felt this achievement was a summation of his work, he expects to continue his research for many years. "Of course, I hope to do something more," Lvov said, "Many, many people were considered. This award means Louisiana researchers are moving forward."