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Events Calendar Spotlight

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This week, The Alchemist is looking to the sun for record-breaking power and sniffing the air to catch a whiff of blackcurrant. Testing times ahead for heavy metal in the pharmaceutical industry we learn, and logical molecules come to the for in potential biomedical and sensor applications. In child health, C&EN reports on fire retardants in baby products. And, finally, everyone's favorite gray-haired video chemist, Martyn Poliakoff, is nominated for the position of Foreign Secretary at the Royal Society.

Independently certified tests on a flexible, solar cell show that scientists at Empa, the Swiss Federal Laboratories for Materials Science and Technology, have boosted the energy conversion efficiency from 17.6% to a staggering 18.7% in a year. The copper indium gallium (di)selenide, CIGS, material represents a new world record beating the team's own previous best of June 2010. To make solar power viable without subsidies, large scale, easy to develop and inexpensive solar cells are needed. This latest improvement means these relatively inexpensive materials are gradually closing the efficiency gap on polycrystalline silicon-based devices. Team leader Ayodhya Tiwari suggests CIGS will ultimately lead to a paradigm shift in solar power technology.

Blackcurrant, or cassis, is one of the fruitiest of top notes odorants used in fragance chemistry. A team in Germany has now taken a close look at the gas phase structure of odor molecules that smell of blackcurrant, including the archetype cassyrane. Microwave spectroscopy reveals much about what stereochemical characteristics are linked to this distinctive odor used in perfumes such as "DKNY Be Delicious." Understanding which isomers and which hydro derivatives share the scent or deviate into the smell of Provencal herbs, such as rosemary, can help fragrance chemists design novel odorants for the next fashionable fragrance.

A new biosensor based on an antibody system has been designed and tested by researchers at the Virginia Institute of Marine Science. The sensor can detect marine pollutants, such as oil, much more quickly and at lower cost than current technologies, the developers say. They add that the device is small and sturdy enough to be used from a boat. "Our biosensor combines the power of the immune system with the sensitivity of cutting-edge electronics," explains VIMS' Mike Unger. "It holds great promise for real-time detection and monitoring of oil spills and other releases of contaminants into the marine environment."

A covalently bonded, as opposed to supramolecular, molecule incorporates several functionalities that can, under light control, carry out 13 logical operations. Each operation has been implemented before in separate molecules. However, by using different wavelengths of light, the developers can carry out the different operations separately or in combinations. Both the input and output are light, rather than electrochemical, pH, or other chemical and physical changes. The team suggests that building a molecular computer using this kind of component might never be achieved, but such molecules could be used in nanosensor and diagnostics devices.

C&EN is reporting that the first investigation of halogenated fire retardants in baby products reveals that infants could be exposed to multiple retardants, including one at levels higher than considered acceptable by the Consumer Product Safety Commission. Heather Stapleton and colleagues at Duke University tested baby products containing polyurethane foam, to which flame retardants are commonly added at relatively high concentration. Mass spectrometry and chromatography revealed tris(1,3-dichloroisopropyl) phosphate (TDCPP) to be present in more than a third of products tested. TDCPP has not been used in children's pyjamas since the 1970s because of its putative mutagenicity; more recent tests show possible neurotoxicity.

Supercritical fluids expert Martyn Poliakoff of the University of Nottingham has been nominated as next "Foreign Secretary" for the Royal Society, the UK's equivalent of the National Academy of Sciences in the USA. The role of Foreign Secretary of the Royal Society was inaugurated in 1723 60 years before the government had a post of Foreign Secretary. Aside from Poliakoff's important contribution to "green" chemistry over the last decades, he has achieved international fame through the Periodic Table of Videos, in which he and colleagues endeavor to bring the wonders of chemistry to as wide an audience as possible. Poliakoff is also renowned for his trademark gray hair.