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An international team from Imperial College London, the University of Kent, UK and Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, USA, have discovered that when icy comets collide with a planet, amino acids - the fundamental building blocks of proteins - can be produced from the molecular milieu. Writing in Nature Geochemistry, the team suggests that such processes may have somehow kick-started life on Earth soon after the period of heaviest bombardment from comets and asteroids some 4.5 to 3.8 billion years ago. IC's Zita Martins explains that, Our work shows that the basic building blocks of life can be assembled anywhere in the Solar System and perhaps beyond. Understanding how a primordial soup containing amino acids and countless other molecules then took the step from non-living prebiotic systems to life remains a mystery.





Researchers from the University of Alicante (UA) and the University of the Basque Country (UPV) have developed and patented a new catalyst that efficiently removes the important volatile organic compound 1,2- dichloroethane from waste gas streams in the PVC and other industries. Previously, thermal incineration was the most common approach to destroying polluting VOCs. However, catalytic degradation requires lower temperatures and avoids production of secondary pollutants. The new catalyst is based on mixed oxides of cerium and praseodymium and has demonstrated great efficiency at the relatively low temperature of 250 Celsius.





Evonik Industries AG has awarded Florian Kniep of the Technische Universitaet Muenchen (TUM) its research prize for his work, with Stefan Huber, on new, alternative, non-toxic compounds, so-called halogen bridge donors, that act as organic catalysts. In the long run we expect that halogen bridge-based organocatalysts and hydrogen bridge donors will complement each other, Kniep says. Moreover, this type of catalyst could be used to improve the enantioselectivity of numerous reactions.





A smart phone microscope developed by researchers at the University of California Los Angeles can focus on individual viruses and other nanoscopic particles. The portable attachment could be used to perform sophisticated field testing to detect viruses and bacteria without the need for bulky, fragile and expensive microscopes or other laboratory equipment. This cellphone-based imaging platform could be used for specific and sensitive detection of sub-wavelength objects, including bacteria and viruses and therefore could enable the practice of nanotechnology and biomedical testing in field settings and even in remote and resource-limited environments, says lead developer Aydogan Ozcan.





Squeezing natrolite, a porous aluminosilicate zeolites mineral, can open up its pores allowing ions as large as europium (or perhaps uranium) inside. The phenomenon was discovered by an international team based at the University of South Carolina and Stanford University, USA and Yonsei University, Korea. "With natrolite, people have always said you can't get europium ions in there. But under pressure, you can," says USC's Thomas Vogt. The auxetic behavior may be counter-intuitive in that diamond anvil pressure opens a window for larger ions to migrate into the pores. The exchange of europium ions shows promise for nuclear waste processing as uranium ions are a similar size.





Experimental evidence that fullerenes are built by the breakdown of larger precursors and not constructed atom by atom in nature has emerged from work by Harry Dorn of Virginia Tech and colleagues. Although several processes for making fullerenes are well documented, there are two competing theories about the mechanisms at work at the molecular level. The first and oldest is the bottom-up theory, which says these carbon cages are built atom-by-atom. The second, more recent theory, takes a top-down approach, suggesting instead that fullerenes are formed when much larger structures break into constituent parts. Dorn's study of a particular metallofullerene consisting of 84 carbon atoms with two additional carbon atoms and two yttrium atoms trapped inside revealed that this structure could collapse to form almost every other fullerene, as revealed by X-ray analysis.