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This week the Alchemist learns more about the link between estrogen and obesity, discovers that the colors of autumn leaves are not as degraded as was once thought, and how mineral tests can inform healthcare workers addressing the issue of night blindness. In Finland, we hear, researchers are converting food waste into fuel while a new theory explains Type 1.5 superconductivity. Finally, Chip Cody earns himself this year's Anachem Award for his outstanding contribution to analytical chemistry.

JEOL chemist Robert "Chip" Cody is the 2011 recipient of the prestigious Anachem Award. The Award, established in 1953, is presented annually to an outstanding analytical chemist based on their activities in advancing the art and science of the field. Cody has worked on laser ablation and desorption, DART (Direct Analysis in Real Time) ion source, trapped-ion MS/MS techniques and other creative combinations of chromatography, ionization sources, and mass analyzers.

A US study has revealed that the sex hormone, estrogen, may be key to the onset of obesity in women. The research, carried out on mice so far, indicates that estrogen regulates energy expenditure, appetite and body weight, while an inadequate number of receptors for the hormone in specific parts of the brain - the hypothalamic neural centers - may lead to obesity. Deborah Clegg and colleagues say estrogen has profound effects on the body. Their study identified a possible link in the brains of female mice and they suspect there are effects on males but they are yet to identify an estrogen receptor in male mice.

Bernhard Kräutler and colleagues at the University of Innsbruck, in Austria, have discovered a new chlorophyll decomposition product in autumn leaves of the Norway maples. The new structure hints at a decomposition pathway dissimilar to that observed in other deciduous trees. "Essential pieces of the puzzle of this biological phenomenon have been solved only within the last two decades," explains Kräutler but he and his colleagues found none of the typical breakdown products in yellow-green or yellow Norway maple leaves. The main product was a dioxobilane, which looks more like a chlorophyll breakdown product from barley leaves or even bile pigments formed by heme breakdown.

Researchers in Pakistan used flame atomic absorption spectroscopy (FAAS) to test urine and other samples from children with night blindness, while the disorder is known to be associated with vitamin A deficiency, the team also demonstrated that the children were also deficient in several minerals as well as having elevated sodium levels. The work could help guide healthcare workers in parts of the world where night blindness is common to home in on general nutrition issues.

Scientists in the Academy of Finland's Sustainable Energy (SusEn) research program have successfully converted waste from the food and paper pulp industry into a biobutanol a potentially useful fuel compound. "Butanol is a very energy-efficient alternative and, like ethanol, lends itself well for industrial-scale production," explains Ulla Lassi of the University of Oulu, who hopes to develop biobutanol as a transport fuel. The fermentation process can take in waste streams from a variety of industries and generate the energy-dense compound as a potentially sustainable alternative to bioethanol generated from crops grown for the purpose.

Materials scientists, chemists and physicists have known that there are two types of superconductivity - Type I and Type II. But, in the centenary of the discovery of the phenomenon of zero-resistance materials, scientists at the University of Massachusetts Amherst and Sweden's Royal Institute of Technology have published what they describe as a fully self-consistent theory of the third kind of superconducting behavior, Type 1.5, which lies between the two well-known types and has characteristics previously thought to be mutually exclusive and unique to each. The new understanding could help researchers determine what characteristics and conditions are needed to make new Type 1.5 superconductors.