ChemWeb Newsletter

Not a subscriber? Join now.December 29, 2011


An alchemical trick if ever there was one is revealed this week by chemists in Israel who have made insoluble substances soluble while mathematics helps cut costs in tracing black gold. In the wild, The Alchemist also learns why some chilis are so hot and others less pungent and how cockroach sex pheromones might save the woodpecker. Out of this world, Hubble reveals Plutonian chemistry and explains the ruddy embarrassment of this former planet. In Germany, a major award for plastic electronics.

A graduate student at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem Casali Institute of Applied Chemistry has found a way to increase a compound's solubility, which could have implications for pharmaceuticals, cosmetics and agriculture. Katy Margulis-Goshen working for Shlomo Magdassi has demonstrated that drying an oil-in-water emulsion containing an insoluble substance produces nanoparticles of that substance which can be readily dissolved in water or biological fluids. The technique might be exploited in novel pharmaceutical formulations and agrochemical delivery systems.

Researchers in Spain and Iran have worked together to develop an inexpensive statistical approach to analyzing samples contaminated with heavy fuel oil based on multivariate curve resolution and alternating least squares of chromatographic and mass spectrometric data. The team suggests that the approach, which sidesteps the need for increasingly sophisticated and expensive instrumentation would allow the authorities and others to home in on illicit or inadvertent spillages from offshore drilling platforms and other sites.

Chili peppers produce capsaicin, the pungent substance that gives the fruit its heat, as a chemical weapon to beat back invading Fusarium fungi and to protect their seeds. However, in dry conditions, the fungi do not thrive and so the plants do not need to produce as much capsaicin to protect themselves. In wetter regions in which the fungus thrives, the pepper plants spice up their defenses. There is a major physiological trade-off, however. Pungent plants have reduced efficiency in water use, so make fewer seeds in dryer areas. Non-pungent plants in wetter areas, make more seeds but these are more likely to be attacked by fungus.

Cockroach sex pheromones could have surprising benefits for an endangered species of woodpecker, according to a study by researchers at North Carolina State University and their colleagues from the State University of New York College of Environmental Science and Forestry and the University of California-Davis. The team has studied the largest and most abundant of the wood cockroaches, Parcoblatta lata. The species is a pest in American homes but is the favored meal of the red-cockaded woodpecker. Understanding the chemical cocktail of sex pheromones could be used to determine whether potential new habitats for the woodpecker might be suitable for breeding programs to boost numbers.

It might be that astronomers no longer consider Pluto to be a fully fledged planet but that does not make it of any less interest to chemists. Now, the highly sensitive Cosmic Origins Spectrograph on board the Hubble Space Telescope has revealed a strong UV absorber on Pluto's surface. The spectrum offers new evidence that there are either complex hydrocarbons and/or nitrile molecules on the surface. These compounds might provide a chemical explanation for Pluto's ruddy coloration.

Karl Leo, Jan Blochwitz-Nimoth and Martin Pfeiffer have been honored for their pioneering achievements in the field of organic electronics with the Deutscher Zukunftspreis 2011. Leo, director of the Fraunhofer Institute for Photonic Microsystems IPMS in Dresden, has devoted most of his career to organic electronics in the hope of augmenting or perhaps even displacing silicon as the material of choice for circuitry. The endowment of 250,000 Euros is awarded annually by the President of the Federal Republic of Germany and honors outstanding innovation that has taken the leap to from research laboratory to industry and so created jobs.