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The Alchemist learns of a scalable cat this week as well as how the matrix is all important when it comes to identifying metabolites in a single drop of blood. A follow-up trial for prostate drug abiraterone demonstrates quality of life improvements in patients with the aggressive form of the disease, the same drug might also be used in treating breast cancer. German researchers working at close to absolute zero and formulated the smallest drop of hydrochloric acid, showing that four water molecules and one HCl are all that is needed. In physical science the giant intrinsic electroresistance has been demonstrated in a conventional ferroelectric film for the first time and could herald the development of a new high-density type of computer memory. Finally, technical achievement in founding modern near infrared chemical imaging systems leads to an award for Malvern Instruments' Technical Director E Neil Lewis.

Tore Hansen and colleagues at the University of Oslo in Norway have developed an efficient approach to synthesizing polymer beads containing the amino acid proline and its derivatives, for use in organocatalysis. Their scalable approach could eventually be used in large-scale industrial catalyst production. Chiral proline is a useful and versatile organocatalyst for asymmetric reactions, in particular, reactions of aldols important to the chemical and pharmaceutical industries. Supporting proline on polymer beads boosts their performance significantly. "Our approach is more efficient but it's also more readily scalable so you can actually use this is on a preparative scale to make large amounts of the catalyst," says Hansen.

A single drop of blood is enough to identify sugars, fatty acids, amino acids, and various metabolites thanks to the development of Matrix-Assisted Ionization/Laser Desorption (MAILD), which extends classical MALDI-TOF mass spectrometry. Researchers at the Max Planck Institute for Chemical Ecology in Jena, Germany and their colleagues from the Czech Academy of Sciences in Prague have developed a new method that is quick and reliable. The next stage in the development of MAILD will be to use it quantitatively as well as qualitatively at which point it could be a useful tool for medical and biological diagnostics.

A large trial of the drug candidate abiraterone shows it to be a promising treatment for prostate cancer. Cancer Research UK reports that it played an important role in the early development and testing of the drug having funded the lead researchers on the study that has completed. The same drug might also have potential in advanced-stage breast cancer. Researchers at the Institute of Cancer Research and The Royal Marsden Hospital London tested the drug on 54 men with aggressive, advanced prostate cancer. They found that abiraterone worked for around two-thirds of the men on the trial, causing tumors to shrink and relieving pain, although the effects lasted just 8 months.

Five individual molecules - four water molecules and one hydrogen chloride molecule - are needed to make the smallest possible droplet of acid, according to ultracold work by Martina Havenith, Dominik Marx, and colleagues at Ruhr-Universität-Bochum, Germany. Using infrared laser spectroscopy to monitor the behavior of the molecules and theoretical ab initio simulations, the team discovered that the formation of the acid cluster at temperatures close to absolute zero can occur only if the molecules aggregate one after the other. Usually, activation of chemical reactions requires the input of energy, explains Marx, but this is not possible close to absolute zero without a successive aggregation mechanism.

Researchers at Oak Ridge National Laboratory, Tennessee, report in Science how they have demonstrated giant intrinsic electroresistance in a conventional ferroelectric film for the first time. The discovery could open the way for new faster, smaller, and higher capacity computer memory and other devices. The challenge has always been to develop materials on the nanoscale with binary switching capacity. Now, ORNL's Peter Maksymovych and colleagues have opened a tiny door in the polar surface of ferroelectric materials that lets electrons in. "The size of this 'door' is less than one-millionth of an inch, and it is very likely taking only one-billionth of a second to open," explains Maksymovych. Making it a very small and very fast candidate for a binary switch.

Neil Lewis, Technical Director for Malvern Instruments will receive the Anachem Award at this year's Federation of Analytical Chemistry and Spectroscopy Societies conference in October. The award, established in 1953, the Anachem Award is presented annually by the Detroit Section of the American Chemical Society to an outstanding analytical chemist based on activities in teaching, research, administration or other activity which has advanced the art and science of the field. Lewis is recognised as one of the founders of modern near infrared chemical imaging systems.