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The incendiary dangers of golfing with titanium caught The Alchemist's eye this week, as did research that homes in on ubiquitous enzymes, while longer-last aircraft engines might take flight thanks to nanotechnology. Wood could be the source of a novel polymer additive to usurp BPA, we learn, while a colorimetric smart phone app could simplify health checks and halt pandemics. Finally, a multinational award.

Research published in the journal Fire and Materials by scientists at the University of California Irvine, suggests that golfers using titanium alloy clubs when they are in the rough could be to blame for dangerous wildfires in some cases. They have demonstrated that when a club head coated with the tough but lightweight alloy strikes rock, it can produces sparks that reach several thousand degrees and persist long enough to ignite dry foliage. Fire investigators in Orange County asked UCI to determine whether these modern clubs could have triggered blazes at Shady Canyon Golf Course in Irvine and Arroyo Trabuco Golf Club in Mission Viejo. The researchers painstakingly re-created in the lab course conditions on the days of the fires. Using high-speed video cameras and powerful scanning electron microscope analysis, they found that when titanium clubs were abraded by striking or grazing hard surfaces, intensely hot sparks flew out of them. In contrast, when standard stainless steel clubs were used, there was no reaction.

The enzyme PP1, protein phosphatase 1, plays an important role in many diverse biochemical processes in the body and is involved in many diseases, including cancer. It is too ubiquitous to target for drug development because an agonist or antagonist will inevitably disrupt processes in addition to the one being targeted leading to untenable side effects and complications. Now, researchers at Brown University, have used spectroscopy and crystallography to help them focus on how PP1 interacts with specific proteins and so understand its behavior in particular systems that might allow highly targeted drugs to be designed for a given system or process to avoid interactions away from the disease site.

Researchers at University West in Sweden are adding ceramic nanoparticles to the protective heat-shield layer in aircraft engines using suspension plasma spraying at 7000 to 8000 Celsius. The hope is that the porous thin layer (0.5 millimeters) could boost service life of the engines by up to 300 percent as well as making them more fuel efficient and so cheaper to run as well as less environmentally damaging. The research carried out by Nicholas Curry was conducted in close collaboration with aircraft engine manufacturer GKN Aerospace and Siemens Industrial Turbomachinery. It is likely to be used in both aircraft engines and gas turbines used in power generation within two years.

Controversial plastics additive bisphenol A (BPA) could be replaced using a component of wood, lignin. BPA is used in the manufacture of shatter-proof plastic eyewear and sports equipment, in high-performance adhesives, food and drink container liners and many other areas. However, it is known to be an estrogen mimic and its activity in the body and environment has raised health and safety concerns that its use should be banned. Kaleigh Reno and Richard Wool of the University of Delaware have now demonstrated a conversion of lignin to bisguaiacol-F (BGF), which they say has a similar structure to BPA. The team is now testing its properties and suggest that a viable alternative to BPA will be marketable within two to five years.

Pocket diagnostics are on the way thanks to the development at Cambridge University of an app that makes any smart phone a medical marvel. The app uses the smart phone's inbuilt camera to scan familiar color-change test strips commonly used to test for problems in diabetes, kidney disease, and urinary tract infection. The app makes it easier for both patients and doctors to determine the degree of color change in such tests and given connectivity to transmit appropriate medical data from patients directly to health professionals in remote regions. The app might be useful in monitoring, and thus helping to control, the spread of pandemics in the developing world.

Dutch chemist Evan Spruijt, who works at the Ecole Superieure de Physique et de Chimie Industrielles, in France, has received The Dream Chemistry Award (DCA) from Institute of Physical Chemistry of the Polish Academy of Sciences in Warsaw having been nominated by Wilhelm Huck from the Radboud University Nijmegen, in The Netherlands. The prize recognises his visionary research project involving the creation of microdroplets of water that might be programmed to grow and divide autonomously under suitable physical and chemical conditions and thus act as a model of some important characteristics of living cells.