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Time-keeping with quantum mechanics caught The Alchemist's eye this week with a truly long-term view while secret writing that uses a mix of sunscreen and boron could lead to new scratch and read products. Ionic liquids hold much promise in gas chromatography of biofuels, we learn, and a lethal combination of anticancer drug and protein inhibitors offers a new, effective approach to ovarian and breast cancers. Chemists in China have boiled a bucky egg and broken the rules, and finally, a fourth NSF award for chemists at Kansas State University.

A single aluminum ion is at the ticking heart of a new optical clock that is twice as accurate as any other. Hypothetically, the clock would still be accurate to the second in 3.7 billion years time, beating the previous record of 1.7 billion years by more than a few ticks. James Chin-wen Chou, David Wineland and colleagues at the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) in Colorado, exploit a quantum information protocol in their new clock design. The technology could lead to improved timekeepers for satellite systems and for determining the values of fundamental scientific constants.

A difluoroboron complex of avobenzone undergoes the fairly novel process of reversible mechanochromic luminescence at room temperature. Scratch it under UV light and it changes color from green-blue to yellow, the yellow then reverts to blue given time, although the reverse process occurs more quickly on heating. The complex is a simple derivative of a sunscreen product and responds to the lightest touch, leading to a red-shift in the color of the material under ultraviolet excitation. The writable "scratch the surface" ink could have many potential commercial applications as well as being yet another technique for old school cloak and dagger spies to master.

Italian scientists have developed an alternative method for measuring fatty acid methyl esters in biodiesel using a room temperature ionic liquid as a chromatographic stationary phase. According to Luigi Mondello and colleagues at the University of Messina and University Campus Biomedico of Rome, the approach is simpler and faster than other techniques and can be applied to blends containing up to 40% esters. The ionic liquid GC stationary phase gave excellent performance in short and long GC columns, its high polarity ensuring complete separation of the target esters.

A combination of protein inhibitor and conventional anticancer drugs is proving effective in treating ovarian and breast cancer, according to a review by Susan Bates and Christina Annunziata of the National Cancer Institute in Bethesda, Maryland. Their review studied data on studies that took advantage of the synthetic lethality of BRCA (breast cancer susceptibility genes) and poly-ADP ribose polymerase (PARP) proteins to attack cancerous cells whilst sparing healthy ones. Bates notes that patients on combination therapy had improved "[disease] progression-free survival, and overall survival" as compared to patients treated with traditional drugs alone.

Unusual egg-shaped fullerene molecules contain three fused pentagons, unlike conventional fullerenes, according to Chinese chemists. The new compounds, made by Yuan-Zhi Tan of Xiamen University, and colleagues have a bulging ovoid shape that could help explain some of the mysteries about fullerene structures. Triply fused pentagons of carbon atoms could be a basic subunit of fullerene molecules, but violate the so-called isolated pentagon rule. Tan and colleagues used X-ray crystallography to show that they broke the rule.

Christine Aikens, a Kansas State University chemist will receive an NSF CAREER award to allow her to improve the laboratory experience for undergraduates and conduct research that could lead to clean and renewable sources of energy. The award is the fourth for her department. "I am very happy to be receiving the National Science Foundation's CAREER award," Aikens said. "This grant will enable our group to begin new and exciting projects in both research and teaching, and it will dramatically affect the path of my career." With four award recipients, that's a quarter of the department's graduate faculty, says departmental head Eric Maatta.