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Researchers at the University in Leeds, UK, have found a quantum mechanical explanation for a seemingly impossible chemical reaction that leads to the formation of methoxy radicals from one of the most abundant chemicals in interstellar space, methanol. Dwayne Heard and his team have shown that chilling the reaction of methanol with hydroxyl radicals to just 60 Kelvin or thereabouts prevents side reactions and facilitates formation, through a quantum tunneling effect, an intermediate on the way to methanol. Chemical reactions get slower as temperatures decrease, as there is less energy to get over the ‘reaction barrier’. But quantum mechanics tells us that it is possible to cheat and dig through this barrier instead of going over it, Heard says.

Chemists in the US have applied pressure to and chilled the solvent carbon disulfide to make it take on metallic characteristics. Choong-Shik Yoo and colleagues at Washington State University have used a diamond anvil cell to apply a pressure of about 5 gigapascals to their sample and cool it to 6.5 Kelvin. They demonstrated that under these conditions, the material adopts a crystalline form in which its electrons are free to move without resistance - they made a novel superconductor, in other words. The research provides new insight into how superconductivity works in unconventional materials, an area that has intrigued scientists for several decades, Yoo said. These unconventional materials are typically made of atoms with lower atomic weights that let them vibrate at higher frequencies, increasing their potential as superconductors at higher temperatures. Although 6.5 K is a lot balmier than the temperatures at which users like to operate devices and instruments that could benefit from superconductors, to say the least.

Chirality is a critical issue in pharmacology for well-known reasons that one enantiomer of an asymmetric molecule is often more active than its counterpart and in some cases one enantiomer has serious side effects. A team from Brookhaven National Laboratory and Ohio University have now turned to nanotechnology in the form of gold-and-silver nanocubes to help them distinguish their lefts from their rights. The nanocubes help the team enhance circular dichroism signals. Our discovery and methods based on this research could be extremely useful for the characterization of biomolecular interactions with drugs, probing protein folding, and in other applications where stereometric properties are important, explains BNL's Oleg Gang.

Researchers in Canada and Japan have worked together to develop a novel iron catalyst, which they suggest might make hydrogenation reactions more environment friendly. Hydrogenation reactions are commonly catalyzed using palladium or platinum compounds, but these metals are rare and expensive posing significant economic and environmental problems in obtaining adequate supplies. Iron would make a good substitute as it is abundantly available. But, iron oxidizes. Writing in the journal Green Chemistry, the team from RIKEN and McGill University, have embedded iron-based catalyst nanoparticles in a polymer matrix to protect them from oxygen and water and so preclude their catalyst from rusting. Our aim is to develop iron-based catalysts not only for hydrogenation but also a variety of organic transformations that can be used in future industrial applications, explains RIKEN researcher Yoichi Yamada.

Researchers in Spain have used computational chemistry to plot for the first time a cartographic map of enzyme behavior during the catalytic process. Features include the moment when a given enzyme is at the point of maximum energy on the way from taking reactants to final product, which all happens within a femtosecond. The study conducted by researchers at the Universitat Jaume I and the University of Valencia was published in Nature Chemistry. We can [now] make a quantitative estimate of the flexibility of the protein, how much it deforms itself, how much energy you need to deform that protein to generate the reaction that you want, explains UJI's Vicent Moliner.

The three PhD winners of this year's Reaxys Prize have been named as: Martin Donakowski from the Poeppelmeier group at Northwestern University, USA, Max Hansmann from the Hashmi group at University of Heidelberg, Germany and Johannes Heppekausen from the Fürstner group at the Max-Planck Institute, Mülheim, Germany. The awards named for Elsevier's chemistry workflow program recognizes original and innovative research in organic, organometallic and inorganic chemistry across the globe. There was a record 581 submissions this year from almost 400 universities.