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This week, The Alchemist needs to talk about Kelvin, the trouble with dating of the carbon kind, a gold shuttle for organic catalysis, copying corals to clean up heavy metal and the development of drugs to treat MERS. Finally, an energetic award winner.

A material made from hafnium, nitrogen and carbon could be the highest-melting solid ever found, according to computer predictions by a team at Brown University in Providence, Rhode Island, USA. The calculations reported in the journal Physical Review B (Rapid Communications) suggests that HfN0.38C0.51 could have a melting point of more than 4400 Kelvin. "The advantage of starting with the computational approach is we can try lots of different combinations very cheaply and find ones that might be worth experimenting with in the lab," explains team leader Axel van de Walle. Next step is to synthesize this substance for testing.

Researchers in the UK have suggested that fossil fuel emissions could soon make it impossible for archeologists and others to use radiocarbon dating reliably to distinguish new materials from artifacts that are hundreds of years old. Carbon that has been trapped underground for millions of years is released by the burning fossil fuels and is diluting radioactive carbon-14 to raise the radiocarbon 'age' of the Earth's atmosphere, according to Heather Graven and colleagues at Imperial College London writing in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. At current fossil fuel carbon emission rates, by the year 2050 a new T-shirt will give the same radiocarbon date as a robe worn by William the Conqueror!

Acetic acid acts as a proton shuttle in gold-mediated acetylenic reactions, according to a team from the Russian Academy of Sciences, Moscow. Theoretical and experimental work lays bare the way in which carboxylic acid groups can assist in the proton transfer process in the thiolation of alkynes catalyzed by gold complexes. The discovery could open up gold catalysis as, opposed to nickel or palladium catalysis, as an invaluable and practical tool for fine organic chemistry, according to the team.

A new material that can "filter" seawater in a way that is reminiscent of how living corals behave could be used to remove mercury and other toxic heavy metals from waste water, according to research published in the Journal of Colloid and Interface Science. Xianbiao Wang of the Anhui Jianzhu University in China, and colleagues, made coral-like nanoplates using aluminum oxide, a material previously used to remove pollutants. Their nanoplates curl themselves up into a coral-like structure, which is much more effective than earlier attempts to mimic the way in which corals absorb heavy metals from water.

The emergent disease, Middle East Respiratory Syndrome, also known as MERS, has yet to have a major global impact. But, that is not because it is not a virulent and lethal illness, but rather due to the preventative efforts of the likes of the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the World Health Organization (WHO). However, the virus is nothing to be sniffed at given that it kills more than a third of the people it infects. The first cases were seen in Saudi Arabia in 2012, but MERS, which is related to SARS, has now spread to South Korea and elsewhere. David Waugh and colleagues at the National Cancer Institute recently determined the crystal structures of three structures that might be the starting point for structure-based drug design to combat this virus.

John Irvine of St Andrew's University has been awarded the 2015 RSC Sustainable Energy Award at the 1st Chemistry in Energy conference organized by the Royal Society of Chemistry's Energy Sector interest group and held at Heriot-Watt University in Edinburgh, Scotland, in July 2015. The award to Irvine recognizes his "outstanding and sustained contributions to low carbon energy generation, in particular the development of electrode materials for solid oxide fuel cells."