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This week, self-healing solar cells are on the way, thanks to MIT research, while Caltech chemists cover watery droplets in graphene to watch them condense. A new multiple-analyte approach to prostate cancer testing could preclude unnecessary surgery and proteomics research reveals a whole range of hormones released by fat cells that might trigger disease. In the fields, a novel carbohydrate could be key to stopping rice rot. Finally, an expatriate Indian chemist receives the second CSRI Medal.

Many materials are destroyed by sunlight, so making new, long-lasting photovoltaic materials for energy conversion is a difficult task. Now, researchers at MIT have emulated plants' self-repair mechanisms in the design of their new materials to overcome this problem. Writing in Nature Chemistry, Michael Strano and colleagues have created a novel set of self-assembling phospholipid molecules that can turn sunlight into electricity; the molecules can be repeatedly broken down and then reassembled quickly, just by adding or removing an additional solution. Strano also claims a doubling of photo efficiency for the new materials.

US chemists have observed the very first steps of water condensation using high resolution atomic force microscopy (AFM) of water on a flat mica surface with a layer of the carbon material graphene covering the water. The graphene prevents the AFM tip from nudging the water molecules around the surface and so allowed the Caltech team, led by Jim Heath, to get a close-up view of tiny ice crystals forming as water first condenses on a surface quickly followed by a build-up of liquid water. The technique could have wide application in adsorbate structure determination.

A new mass spectrometry technique that uses so-called "shifter" markers to boost the signal can be used to detect multiple proteins simultaneously and could improve prostate cancer detection rates. Brax Ltd, a company based in Cambridge, UK, has developed the shifters to improve sensitivity and to allow PSA (prostate-specific antigen) and several other markers, including interleukins. Prostate Specific Antigen (PSA) is the marker used to detect prostate cancer, but 70% of men with raised levels of PSA haven’t actually got the disease. False positives can mean unnecessary medical and surgical intervention.

20 new hormones and other substances not previously known to be secreted into the blood by human fat cells have been discovered by scientists in The Netherlands. The proteomics research suggests that excess fat tissue is not the dormant storage it was once thought to be and instead plays an active role in sending out chemical signals to other parts of the body that might increase the risk of heart disease, diabetes and cancer. The research adds to considerably to the short list of hormones, including appetite-controlling leptin, that were previously known to science.

An unusual carbohydrate structure on bacterial cell surface acts as camouflage against fungal defenses, according to a team led by Antonio Molinaro at the University of Naples and Christian Hertweck at the Leibniz Institute for Natural Product Research and Infection Biology in Jena. The unusual carbohydrate allows a symbiosis to exist between a bacterium and a fungus that affects rice plants. Without it the symbiosis breaks down and the bacteria succumb to the fungi making the molecule a potential target for agrochemicals to prevent fungal infection an important crop plant.

The Chemical Research Society of India has awarded Ayusman Sen, Distinguished Professor of Chemistry at Penn State University, its second medal. The CRSI Medal is awarded exclusively to outstanding chemists of Indian origin who work outside of India. Sen's research encompasses the twin themes of catalysis and new materials, with one of the goals being the development of new catalysts that will enable the synthesis of polymers and related materials with novel combinations of properties.