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Self-healing graphene, toughening up lithium batteries with spongy silicon, and digging out superweeds, all catch the almost-all-seeing eye of The Alchemist this week. Also on the radar, a botanical approach to cutting flu deaths by treating inflammation even days after infection, how microalgae can convert carbon dioxide into food or fuel, and a drug discovery news app for Apple fans.




Sunburn is not only unsightly, it is commonly very painful and is a significant risk factor for certain types of skin cancer. Ultraviolet light initiates various biochemical cascades involving the inflammatory response as well as potentially causing damage to the cells' genetic material. Researchers at the University of California, San Diego School of Medicine and their colleagues. Nevertheless UV light can be beneficial in skin disorders such as psoriasis so finding a way to prevent inflammatory damage is important. Richard Gallo and colleagues have now shown that RNA is involved in UV damage and point to a way to inhibit this response so that UV can be used in therapy without the risk of skin cancer.





You cannot see anything smaller than an atom with a visible light microscope, because anything smaller is shorter than the shortest wavelength. Australian scientists have pushed microscopy to the limits though by proving that it just takes one atom to cast a shadow. David Kielpinski of Griffith University, working with Erik Streed and their colleagues reveal details in a recent issue of Nature Communications of how they isolated a single atom of ytterbium in a vacuum and held it still long enough to get a snapshot. The work points the way to stretching the limits of light spectroscopy to complex biological molecules that are often damaged by ultraviolet or X-rays and so become less amenable to study at those more energetic wavelengths.





Chemistry World, the members' magazine of the UK's Royal Society of Chemistry has given its 2012 Entrepeneur of the Year Award to Paul Workman. The scientist founded two successful companies Piramed Pharma and Chroma Therapeutics built on various commercialized discoveries from his laboratory in the field of cancer research. Workman is a researcher at the Institute of Cancer Research (ICR) where he is currently deputy chief executive and director of the ICR's Cancer Research UK Cancer Therapeutics Unit in Sutton, UK. He will feature in the magazine, receive a trophy and a ?4000 award (about $6,200).





New calculations by Alexander Pavlov of the NASA Goddard Space Flight Center and colleagues suggest that the Martian lander Curiosity currently wending its way towards the Red Planet, will not have to dig too deep into the dirt to find un-degraded organic molecules with ten or more carbon atoms. Of course, such molecules would be present only if there life on Mars and, moreover, only if it used, or uses, the same molecules used by life on Earth. The team's calculations suggest that just 50 to 100 millimeters of coverage would be adequate to protect such molecules from cosmic radiation.





Yet another application for titanium dioxide has been developed, this time by researchers in Germany hoping to keep their lawn furniture clean. Left out in a European winter, pristine, plastic garden furniture is likely to take on a patina of lichens, algae and other gunk, but not if you coat it with titania, the team reports. As spring turns to summer, the titania is activated by incident ultraviolet light from the sun and the self-cleaning action of this material kicks. Iris Trick and colleagues have now demonstrated the efficiency of these photocatalytic coatings, which could give lazy gardeners yet another comfortable excuse to take a seat.





Fluorine is a highly reactive chemical, which is why it is generally not found in its elemental form in nature. At least that was the received wisdom. New direct evidence puts to rest a debate that has lasted for two centuries regarding special fluorite mineral, the "fetid fluorite" or "antozonite"; crush the mineral and it produces a foul odor. Using, fluorine-19 nuclear magnetic (NMR) spectroscopy, researchers at the Technische Universitaet Muenchen (TUM) and the Ludwig-Maximilians-University Munich (LMU) in Germany have successfully identified natural elemental fluorine trapped within tiny inclusions found in the mineral and separated from calcium ions with which it would otherwise react.