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Optical diamond switches catch The Alchemist's all-seeing eye this week as do dancing atoms in shattered glass. Near-infrared illuminates living tissues we hear while sun and sewage make hydrogen. Porous polymer foams can be condensed from the gas phase and we pin down this year's Nobel chemistry prize.

Researchers at Spain's ICFO (Institute of Photonic Sciences) and their colleagues have demonstrated that a single nano-diamond can be operated as an ultrafast single-emitter optical switch operating at room temperature. A recent study led by researchers of the ICFO (Institute of Photonic Sciences) demonstrates that a single nano-diamond can be operated as an ultrafast single-emitter optical switch operating at room temperature. This work takes us a step closer to that reality.

Cornell University's David Muller, Ute Kaiser, of the University of Ulm, Germany, and colleagues have used an electron microscope to bend, deform and melt a one-molecule-thick sheet of silica glass to reveal what happens just before glass shatters for the first time. Their work reveals the dance of atoms rearranging under the stresses and strains and details appear in the journal Science. Even though glass is a common material, it is notoriously hard to study, said Pinshane Huang, a graduate student working with Muller and the paper’s first author. Glass is known as an amorphous solid because its atoms are rigid like a crystal but disordered like a liquid. This thinnest-ever glass gives us a new way of looking at glass and how it breaks, atom by atom, Huang said.

The first stable, non-toxic labels for near-infrared imaging that are efficient enough for studies of living systems have been developed by Inserm researcher Stéphane Petoud at the Centre de Biophysique Moléculaire of CNRS in Orleans (CBM) and Nathaniel Rosi at the University of Pittsburgh (USA) and their colleagues. Fluorescence imaging is an emerging technique in the field of biomedical applications, allowing a specific target (cell constituents, a pathogenic agent, an active ingredient, etc.) to be observed and monitored in real time and in a non-invasive manner, not only in a single cell but also in a whole body. The researchers have used porous metal organic framework (MOF) materials to host weakly fluorescing lanthanide complexes in order to boost their NIR signal. This new tool for exploring the living world in real time is now available to biologists, and should be available to clinicians in the future.

A solar-powered device that generates hydrogen gas from wastewater could provide a sustainable energy source while improving the efficiency of wastewater treatment, according to US researchers. Yat Li of the University of California, Santa Cruz, and colleagues report a hybrid device that combines a microbial fuel cell (MFC) and a photoelectrochemical cell (PEC) to degrade organic matter in the wastewater via bacterial action and to generate electricity that then boosts the PEC -driven electrolysis of water to generate hydrogen and oxygen. When fed with wastewater and illuminated in a solar simulator, the PEC-MFC device showed continuous production of hydrogen gas at an average rate of 0.05 cubic meters per day

Mitchell Anthamatten of Rochester University and his team have devised a method for growing foam polymers directly from gases. A mixture of gases is pumped into a low pressure reactor containing a cold surface to encourage condensation. One of the condensed liquids forms the polymer, the other temporarily occupies the spaces that become the pores in the foam material. With this process we can grow polymer coatings in which the density and pore structure varies in space, said Anthamatten. My hope is that the research leads to applications in a wide variety of fields, including medical, manufacturing, and high-tech research.

Chemistry was the most important science for Alfred Nobel’s own work. The development of his inventions as well as the industrial processes he employed were based upon chemical knowledge. The Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences this year awarded the Nobel Prize in Chemistry jointly to Martin Karplus Université de Strasbourg, France and Harvard University, Cambridge, MA, USA, Michael Levitt Stanford University School of Medicine, Stanford, CA, USA and Arieh Warshel University of Southern California, Los Angeles, CA, USA, for the development of multiscale models for complex chemical systems. In the 1970s, Martin Karplus, Michael Levitt and Arieh Warshel laid the foundation for the powerful programs that are used to understand and predict chemical processes. Computer models mirroring real life have become crucial for most advances made in chemistry today.