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The Alchemist has Nobel thoughts once again, this time in the realm of nanoscopy and blue LEDs. There's a whole lotta shaking going on in quantum chemistry while stacking up the solar is the order of the day in biomimetics. Graphene finds yet another use as a cancer detector, he learns, and an award for chemistry on Mars.

The Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences has decided to award the Nobel Prize in Chemistry for 2014 to Eric Betzig of Janelia Research Campus, Howard Hughes Medical Institute, Ashburn, VA, USA, Stefan W. Hell Max Planck Institute for Biophysical Chemistry, Göttingen, and German Cancer Research Center, Heidelberg, Germany and William E. Moerner Stanford University, Stanford, CA, USA “for the development of super-resolved fluorescence microscopy”. Two separate principles are rewarded. One enables the method stimulated emission depletion (STED) microscopy, developed by Hell in 2000. Betzig and Moerner, working separately, laid the foundation for the second method, single-molecule microscopy. The method relies upon the possibility to turn the fluorescence of individual molecules on and off. Their powerful analytical techniques opened up the potential of nanoscopy.

This year's Nobel Prize in Physics goes to Isamu Akasaki Meijo University, Nagoya, Japan and Nagoya University, Japan, Hiroshi Amano Nagoya University, Japan and Shuji Nakamura University of California, Santa Barbara, CA, USA “for the invention of efficient blue light-emitting diodes which has enabled bright and energy-saving white light sources”. This is most definitely a discovery in physics, but as with so many discoveries in other sciences, chemistry underpins the research. Akasaki, Amano and Nakamura produced bright blue light from semiconductor devices based on gallium nitride and related compounds in the early 1990s. Akasaki worked together with Amano at the University of Nagoya, while Nakamura was employed at Nichia Chemicals, a small company in Tokushima. Blue LEDs found their way into optical storage via the blue laser diode and are used to produce low-energy white light LEDs for domestic and other applications.

Neutron scattering experiments on endofullerenes containing either water or hydrogen molecules, carried out at the Institut Laue-Langevin (ILL), in Grenoble, France, have revealed the first known quantum selection rule in molecules, a law of nature that prevents certain transitions between different quantum states. The use of endofullerenes, referred to rather whimsically as baby rattle molecules, could take quantum studies of molecules out of their infancy by providing a unique testing ground for quantum theory. The experiments, undertaken by Mark Johnson and colleagues showed that various forbidden transitions were absent from the spectra, confirming the existence of a molecular selection rule.

Alejandro Briseno of the University of Massachusetts Amherst and colleagues have stacked up nanoscopic "coins" to construct a new type of solar cell that can efficiently harvest light like blades of grass in a lawn and generate electrical energy. The long-sought polymer architecture they have developed can offer high power-conversion efficiency. The technique is simple, inexpensive and applicable to a library of donor and acceptor compounds that are commercially available, Briseno says.

A combination of X-ray photoelectron spectroscopy and Raman spectroscopy has been used to confirm that bioreceptor molecules attached to a graphene biosensor can be used to detect biomarkers for cancer in samples. The biomarkers might be present in blood, saliva or urine samples. Proof of principle was done by a team from the University of Swansea, UK, using 8-hydroxydeoxyguanosine (8-OHdG), as the biomarker. "We're very interested in adapting the graphene sensor platform for a number of other disease biomarkers and for simultaneous detection of a number of biomarkers on the same chip," team member Owen Guy says. "This is very challenging, but could ultimately result in much more informative Point-of-Care, rapid diagnostics."

The annual John C. Lindsay Memorial Award has been presented to Paul Mahaffy, an expert on the chemistry of Mars in 2014. The award is the highest honor given by NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland for space science. The surface of Mars is inhospitable to life as we know it, but there is evidence that it once had a biocompatible climate that may well have supported life billions of years ago. Mahaffy worked on the instrumentation used by NASA's Curiosity rover to probe for chemical evidence of ancient life on Mars. He is also Principal Investigator on the Neutral Gas and Ion Mass Spectrometer on NASA's MAVEN Mars orbiter mission that recently arrived at Mars and Principal Investigator on the Neutral Mass Spectrometer on NASA's LADEE mission that recently completed a successful mission in lunar orbit exploring the tenuous lunar atmosphere (exosphere).