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The Alchemist learns of a new use for that old favorite - brimstone - in the form of a novel energy-dense battery and hears of the near-impossibility of crystallography without crystals. Water is spilling over the quantum horizon too, this week, with a new model to explain its intriguing properties. In biotechnology, a mass production scheme for DNA comes out of a US-European collaboration. Then, there is a meteoric explanation as to why life does not emerge again and again on Earth as one might expect. Finally, the 2014 Priestley Medal is announced.

An all-solid lithium-sulfur battery that has about four times the energy density of conventional lithium-ion batteries has been developed by scientists at Oak Ridge National Laboratory. The work undertaken by Chengdu Liang and colleagues also precludes flammability issues seen with more conventional systems. Lithium-sulfur systems have been investigated before but still require a liquid electrolyte. Liang and his team have now synthesized sulfur-rich materials that work as the cathode in conjunction with a lithium anode and a solid electrolyte.

Fluctuation X-ray scattering could help fill gaps in our knowledge of protein structure for those that cannot be crystallized. The diffract and destroy technique developed by Peter Zwart and colleagues at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory uses short bursts of radiation that are achievable with free electron laser sources. They can thus obtain data on protein structure while the protein is essentially in its native, fluid state.

Researchers at the UK's National Physical Laboratory, the University of Edinburgh and IBM's TJ Watson Research Center have built a quantum model of water that could reveal the origins of some of its more intriguing properties. The research, published in the journal Physical Review Letters, could explains how a single charged particle, known as a 'quantum Drude oscillator' (QDO), can mimic the way that the electrons of a real water molecule fluctuate and respond to their environment. This approach could potentially be used for other substances and offers a new framework for simulation of materials at the atomic and molecular scale.

Researchers at Karolinska Institutet in Sweden and Harvard University in the USA have devised a new way to mass produce short, single-stranded DNA molecules, which they suggest could solve many of the problems associated with current production methods. The new method is versatile and able to solve problems that currently restrict the production of DNA fragments. We've used enzymatic production methods to create a system that not only improves the quality of the manufactured oligonucleotides but that also makes it possible to scale up production using bacteria in order to produce large amounts of DNA copies cheaply, explains team member Björn Högberg.

Phosphorus, one of the essential elements on which life depends, may have reached the surface of the prebiotic Earth in meteorites 3.5 billion years ago. A research team led by University of South Florida astrobiologist Matthew Pasek have identified minerals present in meteorites from Earth's earliest periods, the Hadean and Archean eons that may have released phosphorus in soluble, reactive form into water allowing it to be incorporated into molecules that ultimately gave rise to life on Earth. The discovery answers one of the key questions for scientists trying to unlock the processes that gave rise to early life forms and that is why do we not see new types of life emerging today? Meteorite phosphorus may have been a fuel that provided the energy and phosphorus necessary for the onset of life, explains Pasek, Earth is not subject to such a pounding from cosmic rocks as it was billions of years ago thus limiting the chances of such a kickstarter event occurring again.

MIT's pioneering bio-inorganic chemist, Stephen Lippard, is the winner of what some pundits refer to as the chemists-only Nobel prize for 2014. Lippard (72) is recognized for mentoring legions of scientists in the course of furthering the basic science of inorganic chemistry and paving the way for improvements in human health, according to the American Chemical Society, which endows the medal. Lippard refers to himself as a professional student rather than seeing the title Professor as being a one-way status. It’s an honor to join the very distinguished list of Priestley Medal recipients, he told the ACS's Chemical & Engineering News magazine. It also makes me very proud of my postdocs, graduate students, and collaborators, without whose work none of this would have happened.