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This week The Alchemist hears two tales of electrons in a spin, ancient antibiotic resistance and the benefits of coffee drinkers going green. We also learn about initiatives to make use of "ice that burns". Finally, rather than highlighting a chemistry award, we offer an abridged history of chemical warfare a century after the first chlorine gas attack of WWI.

A gate sensor developed by a team at the University of Cambridge is so sensitive it can detect the movement of a single electron. It was in the very same Cavendish Laboratory where J.J. Thomson discovered the electron in 1897. Now, Fernando González Zalba, of the Hitachi Cambridge Laboratory and the Cavendish Laboratory and colleagues have published details in the journal Nature Communications that explains how a gate sensor might be used in a future quantum computer. "We have called it a gate sensor because, as well as detecting the movement of individual electrons, the device is able to control its flow as if it were an electronic gate which opens and closes," explains González Zalba.

Mitra Taheri and colleagues at Drexel University are working on spin transport electronics, spintronics, in which electron spin, and not just charge, is the currency of computation. They hope to pioneer spintronic memory for a future generation of computers that represent as big a technological leap in computing as was the jump from typewriter to word processor. "We're trying to develop a framework to understand how the many parameters—structure, chemistry, magnetism and electronic properties—are related to each other," explains Taheri. The researchers are using advanced scanning transmission electron microscopy, electron energy loss spectroscopy and other high-resolution techniques to observe the spintronic behavior of thin film oxides and have revealed anisotropy that might be exploited in devices.

A tribe of Yanomami Amerindians in a remote mountainous area in southern Venezuela have never used antibiotics, they bacteria present in their bodies are resistant to modern drugs, according to research from Washington University St Louis. The tribe, which existed in isolation from other people for the last 11000 years has the most diverse range of bacteria and yet these "remote" microbes have many of the genes that confer antibiotic resistance on the pathogenic bacteria with which scientists are familiar in the rest of the world. Many antibiotics were developed by chemists from natural products made by microbes and fungi to defend themselves against bacteria, the Yanomami may well have been exposed to these compounds through natural sources and as such provide us with important clues today about how drug resistance develops.

Unroasted coffee beans can be used to make "green" coffee, which is purported to have health benefits by virtue of its antioxidant content and the presence of various essential minerals. Now, a team at Wroclaw University of Technology, in Wroclaw, Poland, has used a fast and simple method for the analysis of green coffee infusions - high resolution-continuum source flame atomic absorption spectrometry - to obtain total concentrations of calcium, copper, iron, magnesium and manganese ions. They found that dripper type coffee preparation could release approximately three quarters of the calcium and magnesium present in green coffee beans, whereas leaching of other metal ions was at a lower rate.

Gas hydrate deposits in continental shelf sediments are considered a promising resource for future gas supply by several non-European countries. Now the European Concerted Research Action (COST) has been established with Stefan Bünz, associate professor at CAGE, as its Vice Chair. “With the wide spectrum of gas hydrate research undertaken in CAGE (Centre for Arctic Gas Hydrate, Environment and Climate, in Norway), we will significantly contribute to three of the working groups in MIGRATE: resource assessment; exploration, production and monitoring technologies; and environmental and geohazard challenges. “ says Bünz. CAGE will particularly contribute with a large seismic database from the Norwegian and Arctic margins and development of seismic-based technologies.

Chemical warfare made its deadly debut a century ago on the European battlefields of World War I. The German army released 150 tonnes of chlorine gas at Ypres on April 22, 1915 against French soldiers. 1000 lives were lost, the ongoing story of chemical weapons is, as they say, history. Soldiers with chemical knowledge knew that a damp cloth might protect them, anything containing water would do to dampen a makeshift protective mask including solutions of sodium bicarbonate, sodium hyposulfate (a photographic fixative) and even urine. George Pollitt, a chemist working as an intelligence officer at GHQ, drafted the first instructions suggesting wetted cloths while respirators could be prepared in Britain. A workable design of pad respirator was put into production, designed by chemist Herbert Baker, of Imperial College London, based on one obtained from a German prisoner of war.