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A world of impossibilities this week, the Alchemist learns, with the formation of amorphous magnesium carbonate thought inaccessible for a century, the measurement of the ionization potential of the rare and fleeting astatine atom, five-bonded carbon, a British heat wave and a new way to define extreme temperatures and a nanotech, solar-powered sterilization unit. Finally, an award for a green cement process.




A new form of magnesium carbonate previously thought chemically inaccessible has been produced by researchers at Uppsala University in Sweden. The material has what the team says is a record-breaking surface area and water adsorption abilities and might find applications in controlling moisture in areas as diverse as electronics devices, warehouses and even the ice hockey rink. In contrast to what has been claimed for more than 100 years in the scientific literature, we have found that amorphous magnesium carbonate can be made in a very simple, low-temperature process, explains team leader Johan Goméz de la Torre.





Researchers at CERN and in Mainz have used laser spectroscopy to investigate the properties of the rare and artificially produced radioactive element astatine for the first time. Mainz-based physicist Sebastian Rothe and colleagues have explored experimentally one of the element's fundamental physical parameters, its ionization potential. This property represents the binding energy and indicates how easily one can remove an electron from the atom's outer shell, which then determines the chemical bonding characteristics of that element. The measured value serves as a benchmark for quantum chemistry calculations of the properties of astatine as well as for the theoretical prediction of the ionization potential of superheavy element 117, the heaviest homolog of astatine, the team says. Rothe says that, We are planning to measure the electron affinity of astatine for the first time. Combined with the value for the ionisation potential, this will help us to understand and calculate astatine's chemistry even better.





A collaboration between researchers in Germany and the USA has yielded a crystal structure for a puzzling non-classical carbocation that ends half a century of chemical debate. Paul von Rague Schleyer of the University of Georgia and colleagues in Freiberg and Erlangen have crystallized the 2-norbornyl cation and determined its structure beyond reasonable doubt showing that the charged carbon atom at its center has five bonds rather than the three anticipated for a carbocation. The structure of 2-norbornyl cations conflicts with the classical view of carbon bonds but its existence explains the mechanism of several chemical reactions that might proceed through this intermediate species.





As the United Kingdom basks in a rare heat wave, scientists at the UK’s National Physical Laboratory (NPL) have performed the most accurate measurement yet of the Boltzmann constant, an important parameter in physical chemistry and chemical physics calculations. The team has determined the constant with a precision of 0.7 parts per million, which is twice as good as the best recorded uncertainty. The scale on a thermometer is usually defined with reference to the triple point of water but with extremely hot or cold scientific experiments this temperature 0 defined as 273.16 Kelvin - seems arbitrary and misplaced. Boltzmann's constant offers a way to define temperature based on a fundamental physical property and independent of any specific substance.





Nanoparticles suspended in water can, when sunlight shines on them get very hot, rising to the surface and spitting out jets of hot steam. The discovery has led to the invention of a solar-sterilizer by a team at Rice University in the USA. The system could be used to sterilize waste water in the developing world and help prevent the spread of diseases spread by fecal matter getting into water that people drink or bathe in. A similar system might also be used to quickly and cheaply sterilize medical equipment without the need for chemical disinfectants or an expensive hospital autoclave. Initial tests demonstrate that the autoclave can kill the standard test microbe Geobacillus stearothermophilus, which is found in hot springs and can survive temperatures up to 75 Celsius. The researchers also point out that the process doesn’t damage the nanoparticles, so can be used again and again.





Technology developed with contributions from researchers at Rutgers University has been selected by R&D Magazine’s for its 2013 R&D 100 Awards. Rutgers' Richard Riman and former student Vahit Atakan of Solidia Technologies receive the award for research that dramatically reduces carbon dioxide emissions in the production of cement and concrete products. This is very much a green process for numerous reasons, particularly because it requires far lower temperatures than the conventional method and it provides a new means for carbon sequestration, Riman says. We’re very pleased that the judges recognized its potential at the same time the marketplace is beginning to appreciate the value of the technologies.