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The Alchemist this week catches site through his spyglass of complex interstellar molecules and a possible way to capture carbon usefully that doesn't require huge energy input. Geordie scientists have discovered why a breakfast fry-up could be the optimal hangover cure, a NIST team has found a way to suppress quantum errors, and flexible concrete that heals itself has been made by US materials scientists. Finally, the publicity department at the Royal Society of Chemistry could strike gold in a major PR awards thanks to its Italian Job.




Scientists from the Max Planck Institute for Radio Astronomy (MPIfR) in Bonn, Germany and colleagues at Cornell University, USA, and the University of Cologne, Germany, have detected two complex organic molecules in interstellar space. The compounds, ethyl formate and n-propyl cyanide, are the most complex structures yet identified. Details were revealed during the European Week of Astronomy and Space Science at the University of Hertfordshire, England, by MPI's Arnaud Belloche. He described the analysis of data from the IRAM 30-metre telescope in Spain, which was used to detect emission from molecules in the star-forming region Sagittarius B2 near the center of our galaxy.





Carbon capture and sequestration are high on the environmental agenda as measures we might take to reduce atmospheric carbon dioxide levels and ameliorate the effects of climate change. Now, a team in Singapore has developed an alternative approach that would involve recycling carbon dioxide from conventional fossil fuel burning power stations or trap the gas directly from the atmosphere. They have found a way to convert carbon dioxide efficiently into the useful raw material methanol under very mild conditions. The chemical technology based on an N-heterocyclic carbene catalyst and a silane as the reducing agent is described by Yugen Zhang and Jackie Ying at the Institute of Bioengineering and Nanotechnology in the journal Angewandte Chemie.





Researchers in the beer-loving North East of England have discovered why the "full English breakfast" of sausage, bacon, eggs, grilled tomatoes, and fried bread is such a great antidote the morning after the night before. Most amateur biochemists in the pub will say it is the heavy fat content that mops up the alcohol in your system. But, Elin Roberts, of Newcastle University's Centre for Life, explains that binge drinking of alcohol depletes the brain's neurotransmitters, but bacon contains a high level of particular amino acids that can replenish these, giving you a clearer head. Good news for boozy meat eaters, but vegetarians will have to carry on looking for the perfect hangover cure; aside from giving up beer, of course.





Researchers at the National Institutes of Standards and Technology (NIST) have developed a powerful way to inhibit errors produced by a quantum computer. Writing in the latest issue of Nature, the team explains how they succeeded in making an array of about 1000 ultracold beryllium ions behave as a more robust qubit by blasting the array with a programmed sequence of microwave pulses. NIST's John Bollinger and colleagues suggest that the microwave pulses can quickly reverse problems caused by stray electric or magnetic fields before they accumulate into errors.





A composite concrete material riddled with tiny fibers can fix itself when it next rains. The material could be a boon to structural engineers and those charged with maintaining civil infrastructure in earthquake zones. University of Michigan researchers say the self-healing material just needs light drizzle and carbon dioxide to fix any hairline cracks that appear. The new type of concrete, developed by Victor Li and colleagues, is slightly flexible and so does not break apart under extreme stress. Instead it flexes and when it reverts to its original state any hairline cracks that have formed heal.





Royal Society of Chemistry press officers Brian Emsley and Jon Edwards could win a major public relations award thanks to a publicity stunt created around finding a solution to the dilemma facing the crooks at the end of the movie the Italian Job. The RSC asked the public to devise and submit ways in which stolen gold bars (element 79) featured in the film might have been rescued from the end of a getaway bus overhanging the ledge of a mountain following a bank heist in Turin. Subsequent international media coverage was phenomenal, according to the judging panel.