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This week The Alchemist sheds light on drug delivery, finds out how polymers can run cold and learns of a simple sensor for the date rape drug GHB. In the world of power, solar cells can now be turned into highly efficient lasers, we hear, while a way to roll up useful nanowires is developed in China. Finally this week's award goes to a young pioneer in the field of metabolite research.




A new mechanism for using light to activate drug-delivering nanoparticles and other targeted therapeutic substances inside the body has been developed by US researchers. Near-infrared (NIR) from a low-power laser heats pockets of water trapped within non-photo-responsive polymeric nanoparticles infused with a therapeutic drug. The water pockets absorb the NIR as heat, which softens the encapsulating polymer and allows the drug to be released into the surrounding diseased tissue, for instance. The process can be repeated with precise control of the amount and dispersal of the drug, the researchers suggest.





Polymers are usually good insulators. However, by harnessing an electropolymerization process to produce aligned arrays of polymer nanofibers, researchers at Georgia Institute of Technology have developed a thermal interface material that can conduct heat twenty times more effectively than the original polymer. The modified material can reliably operate at temperatures of up to 200 degrees Celsius and could have applications as a component of electronic heat sinks for cooling computer chips, high-brightness LEDs and the internal circuitry of mobile devices.





A fluorescent sensor for the illicit drug GHB (gamma-hydroxybutyric acid,) commonly known as the date rape drug that predators are known to use to spike a potential victim's drink, has been developed by researchers in Singapore. When the sensor molecule is mixed with a sample from a beverage containing GHB, there is a visible color change that occurs within thirty seconds making it immediately obvious that a drink has been spiked. GHB is a central nervous system depressant banned in many countries but has been used criminally because it incapacitates a victim making them vulnerable to sexual or other assault.





Photovoltaic solar-energy converting devices based on the mineral perovskite have within about two years of development reached efficiencies of 17 percent. Now, researchers at the universities of Cambridge and Oxford have demonstrated that they can also double as a laser. The teams of Cambridge's Richard Friend and Oxford's Henry Snaith have demonstrated that perovskite cells can absorb light as well as emitting it. They describe details of the new findings in the Journal of Physical Chemistry Letters. In their demonstration, the team sandwiched a thin layer of lead halide perovskite between two mirrors to produce an optically driven laser that can re-emit up to 70% of the light it absorbs.





Germanium monosulfide, GeS, is emerging as one of the most important IV-VI semiconductor materials with potential in opto-electronics applications for telecommunications and computing, and as an absorber of light for use in solar energy conversion. Researchers in China have now demonstrated a convenient method for the selective preparation of germanium sulfide nanostructures, including nanosheets and nanowires. These entities are more active than their bulk counterparts and could open the way to lower cost and safer optoelectronics, solar energy conversion and faster computer circuitry.





Benjamin Tu (36) of the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center is the recipient of this year's Norman Hackerman Award in Chemical Research. Tu is recognized for his innovative work on previously little-considered molecules that hold important clues to the biochemistry of cancer and aging. The $100,000 annual award honors early-career scientists at Texas institutions who are considered as expanding the frontiers of chemistry. Tu's work specifically looks at metabolites as key components and drivers of cellular activity rather than being the waste product bystanders they were originally conceived to be.