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The Alchemist takes a seasonable tipple but doesn't have to splash out on expensive wine thanks to the field effect. He also discovers that all those spent coffee grounds he produces could be harvested to make biodiesel and hears of plans to rejuvenate the Baltic Sea with a giant fishtank oxygenator. Drug users could soon be spotted by their glowing fingerprints, thanks to the latest development in forensic chemistry while a detector for melamine could help prevent future food scandals where this compound has been used illicitly to artificially inflate protein readings on baby milk and petfood. Finally, this week's award could help boost European research in nanomedicine.




Mano Misra, Susanta Mohapatra, and Narasimharao Kondamudi of the University of Nevada-Reno are hoping that waste coffee grounds could be used to make an environment-friendly vehicle fuel of the future. Every time you have a cup of Joe, those filter dregs are wasted. The Nevada team, however, explain that spent coffee grounds contain between 11 and 20 percent vegetable oil by weight, which is about the same as traditional feedstocks for biofuels including rapeseed, palm, and soybean oil. The researchers are planning to develop a pilot plant to produce and test the experimental fuel in 2009.





Could pumping oxygen into the Baltic, as if it were a giant fishtank, inject life into a lifeless seabed? This is the question a pilot study being carried out by researchers based at the University of Gothenburg, Sweden, hopes to answer. The Baltic Sea currently has an unusually high phosphate content and produces considerable algal blooms during the summer. Pumping in oxygen could, however, help the environment revert to conditions last seen in the 1990s. "We are going to investigate how you succeed in retaining the phosphorus in the bottom sediment under different external circumstances, with and without artificial oxygenation, in two coastal basins", says project director Anders Stigebrandt.





Latent fingerprints could be used to spot illicit drug use, according to scientists at the University of East Anglia in Norwich and King's College in London, UK. Components of drug metabolites can be detected in sweat, explains UEA's David Russell. "This also works for the tiny amounts of sweat left behind in the characteristic pattern of grooves and ridges of fingerprints left on the objects that were touched," he says. He and his team have used magnetic particles coated with antibodies that bind specifically to drug metabolites. They treat the prints with a second fluorescence-enabled antibody, which then glows under UV if the drug metabolites are present in the fingerprint.





Two fast and inexpensive approaches to detecting the toxic compound melamine, which was at the center of a contaminated baby milk scandal in China recently, are reported, back to back in the RSC journal ChemComm. Both techniques use mass spectrometry and could be adapted to provide on-site kits that would require little training to use. According to David Muddiman of North Carolina State University, Raleigh, US, these are, "marvelous examples of how innovative, direct analysis ionization methods, when coupled with mass spectrometry have the ability to address contemporary problems facing the world." In their work, the researchers have removed all the major obstacles allowing for mass spectrometry not only to compete, but to take the lead in these types of analyses.





Biopharmacity and nanomedicine expert Moein Moghimi of the University of Copenhagen, Denmark, and colleagues have received the equivalent of about $5.5m from the Danish Council for Strategic Research (DSF). The money is expected to establish The Centre for Pharmaceutical Nanotechnology and Nanotoxicology (CPNN) in the Faculty of Pharmaceutical Sciences beginning April 2009. Promising nanoscale materials are set to have a significant impact on medicine, Moghimi and colleagues hope. The success of the new center will help transform the national and European biotechnology and pharmaceutical industries, he says.





As the credit crunch bites, wine lovers will be worrying that they will not be able to afford their favorite tipple this holiday season. Thankfully, research described in New Scientist explains how to make cheap wine taste like a fine vintage. Inventors have failed repeatedly to create a widget to transform cheap "plonk" into a quaffable beverage. But, a decade of research supports the idea that passing an electric field through an undrinkable red wine will accelerate the aging process and help the bouquet and taste mature. This experiment is not one to try at home on a drunken holiday evening your guests have drunk the last of the good stuff, however!