ChemWeb Newsletter

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This week the Alchemist discovers that polymer chemists are turning to supramolecular chemistry (or is it supramolecular chemists turning to polymers?) to create novel flexible and elastic materials. In nanotechnology, a British consumer activist organization is calling for more safety data on nano materials used in cosmetics, and French scientists have demonstrated how nitrogen oxides released by snow melt in the Arctic could have a global impact. In biological research, US scientists are suggesting that a specific active form of vitamin D could be useful as a protective agent against nuclear incidents. And, in interplanetary chemistry, Johns Hopkins researchers have found spectroscopic evidence that water-bearing opal formed on Mars much more recently than previously thought. Finally, we're going Dutch with this week's award in which technology transfer in the area of solar energy conversion brings a financial reward and prestige to a graduate student and his colleagues.

Scientists are beginning to see the telltale signs of warmth and wetness on Mars in the mineralogical studies made possible by data from the Reconnaissance Orbiter. In an article in the November issue of the journal Geology, spectroscopist Scott Murchie, of the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory has analyzed opal evidence from Reconnaissance's data. Opals are hydrated silicas and their formation requires liquid water. According to Murchie and colleagues the opal deposits they have studied lie in regions formed just two billion years ago. Previously, water-bearing minerals in clays have been dated to 3.5 billion years. Water was obviously more widespread and extended to younger times than previous research suggested.

A Dutch graduate student working on solar energy technology has been awarded the Leverhulme Technology Transfer Award 2008 for his work with the Plasma & Materials Processing research group at Eindhoven University of Technology (TU/e). They receive the prize (€7000 for Hoex and €63,000 for the research group) for their successful transfer of research from academia into industry. Earlier this year, Hoex's Ph.D. research was rewarded with the SolarWorld Junior Einstein Award. Two areas of technology transfer underpinned the award: the discovery of the benefits of anti-reflection and passivation coatings at the back of silicon solar cells and the development of these coatings.

Michael Mayer and colleagues at Texas Tech University in Lubbock have demonstrated a process for creating a slip-linked pulley system of molecules - polypseudorotaxanes - via the ring-opening metathesis polymerization of [2]catenanes. Their approach could be used to create tougher and more elastic synthetic materials. In a sense, the work combines features of conventional polymer chemistry with cutting-edge supramolecular chemistry research. "No one has ever reported making polymers in this way," says Mayer, "It is a fundamentally new, stripped-back approach to the synthesis of this class of polymeric materials." The key feature of the new materials is that they have rings that can slide along the polymer chains, providing moveable anchor points for cross-linking.

A consumer advocacy group in the UK has highlighted the fact that so-called "nano materials" are being used in a wide range of cosmetic products despite unresolved issues surrounding their safety. The "Which?" organization says that nano emulsions and other products used by famous brands such as L'Oreal raise few concerns, but the use of fullerenes and nanoparticles of UV filters, such as titanium dioxide and zinc oxide, have seen European Union experts asking for more evidence of safety, the organization says.

Nitrogen oxides are released from the melting snow cover during the Arctic spring, the extent of this effect was not previously recognized. Now, researchers in France, at the CNRS, the Université Joseph Fourier and the Université Pierre et Marie Curie, have made a quantitative study of the origin and evolution of nitrogen compounds in the Arctic atmosphere. Their study, published in the journal Science, should help climatologists to understand better the environmental impact of these gases on this region. The research emphasizes once more the close links between climate systems and anthropogenic pollutants and the need to have a global perspective in environmental studies.

Radiological health expert Daniel Hayes of the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene has found that a form of vitamin D, calcitriol, could help protect the body against cellular damage caused by low levels of radiation. Writing in the International Journal of Low Radiation, he suggests that this active form of the vitamin might be given as a supplement, not only to protect people from background radiation, but also to reduce the health impact of a low-level nuclear incident, such as a leak from a nuclear power station or a terrorist dirty bomb.