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Publishers' select

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The Alchemist celebrates the 2015 Nobel Prizes in Chemistry and Medicine wherein biological, physiological processes with medical implications win the chemistry prize and medical applications of natural product chemistry win the medicine prize. The physics prize was awarded to research into neutrinos, so he won't give that more than a cursory mention in this chemical news roundup. Martian water featured prominently in the news too recently, with NASA "coincidentally" announcing new spectroscopic evidence of liquid water on the Red Planet just as the movie - The Martian - premiered. We also learn this week that when it comes to bimetallic catalysts worse can sometimes be better, with patchy structures functioning two or three orders of magnitude better. Revelations about GC-MS hint at half a century of analysis with that technique as potentially hav ing generated spurious results. Finally, a non-strings-attached Genius Award.

The 2015 Nobel Prize in Chemistry goes to Tomas Lindahl of the Francis Crick Institute and Clare Hall Laboratory, Hertfordshire, UK, Paul Modrich of the Howard Hughes Medical Institute and Duke University School of Medicine, Durham and Aziz Sancar of the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, North Carolina, USA, “for mechanistic studies of DNA repair". The DNA in our cells are constantly bombarded and damaged by oxidizing agents, radiation and other stressors. This year's chemistry prize recognizes research that mapped out, at the molecular level, the DNA repair systems that safeguard our genetic code. The work offered fundamental insights into the workings of the living cell and continues to point the way to new approaches to treating diseases that can result from failure of the repair mechanisms, including cancer.

Chemistry is rewarded in the 2015 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine 2015 with one half going to Irish-born William C. Campbell of Drew University, Madison, New Jersey, USA and Satoshi Omura of Kitasato University, Tokyo, Japan, for their discovery of Avermectin which led to new treatments for infection by roundworm parasites. The other half of this year's prize goes to Youyou Tu of the China Academy of Traditional Chinese Medicine, Beijing, China, for her discoveries of a drug of natural product origin, artemisinin, which is effective against malaria.

It was perhaps not entirely coincidental that a movie about Mars premiered in the same week that revelations of liquid water on the Red Planet were made. Evidence of ancient flowing water on Mars has been accumulating for years and there have been hints that the planet once had vast oceans. Scientists had almost given up hope of finding liquid water there, but spectroscopic data from NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) suggests that the signatures of hydrated minerals are present on the slopes of Martian mountains that have mysterious streaks that could all be explained by the presence of flowing water. The finding, of course, raises two tantalizing possibilities: first that life might exist on the Red Planet and secondly that humans might one day be able to survive there.

It seems that when it comes to bimetallic catalysts, those with a less than perfect structure perform better than their cleaner-cut counterparts. Dion Vlachos of the University of Delaware and colleagues have demonstrated in the journal Nature Communications how a patched architecture may give a more effective catalytic reaction than that seen with a conventional core-shell structure. Moreover, imperfect structures are easier to make, so that simplifies the overall process of catalyst generation. Platinum catalysts with patches of nickel dopant on the surface rather than a consistent, smooth shell were used to demonstrate efficacy in ammonia degradation. "What we have is bifunctional activity, where flat nickel 'terraces' catalyze the breaking of nitrogen-hydrogen bonds, and nickel ‘edges’ drive the pairing of nitrogen atoms," explains Vlachos. "What we thought of as a 'defective' catalyst was actually two to three orders of magnitude better than the so-called 'perfect catalyst',"” he adds. "This finding opens up broad new horizons for materials design."

Chemical analysis carried out using the very common hyphenated technique of gas chromatography mass spectrometry (GC-MS), may have been generating spurious data for half a century, according to work carried out by scientists at The Scripps Research Institute in California. Gary Siuzdak and colleagues believe they have found that GC-MS fundamentally alters the samples it analyzes leading to transformations and loss of small molecules during analysis. It seems that four out of every ten molecules that might be analyzed by GC-MS would be affected. They suggest it is time for science to cool off and use ambient temperature MS so that thermal degradation does not occur.

Will Dichtel of Cornell University, New York, USA, has received one of the 24 MacArthur Foundation Fellowship awards for 2015 as a "a leading figure in chemistry". The so-called "Genius Awards" are given to scientists, artists and community leaders and carry a $625,000 no-strings-attached stipend over five years.