ChemWeb Newsletter

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Publishers' select

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A glint of low-pressure diamond-like carbon catches The Alchemist's eye this week as does a microwave synthesis of photochemical catalysts for wastewater remediation. We learn of a breath of fresh air in enzyme research that might help asthma sufferers and discover that there ionic liquids that can host enzyme chemistry for processing cellulose and other sustainable raw materials. In health news, there are new radical concerns about "vaping." Finally, the award that caught our eye this week goes to Yale's William L. Jorgensen.

William L. Jorgensen of Yale University USA is this year's recipient of the 2015 Tetrahedron Prize for his outstanding contributions to Organic Chemistry. Jorgensen has made outstanding contributions to the general field of computational chemistry and its applications to organic and medicinal chemistry, including chemical reactions, host-guest interactions, protein-ligand interactions, and drug discovery. Specifically, his efforts in computational chemistry, especially in the modeling of organic and biomolecular systems in solution, have led to the development of methods that have been widely applied in bioorganic and medicinal chemistry, the award citation explains.

Yet another form of carbon has been discovered by scientists in the USA. The new phase of solid carbon, called Q-carbon, is distinct from known phases of graphite and diamond and can be produced at ambient pressure under laser action. Nevertheless, the team at North Carolina State University suggests that the most likely place this phase would form in the natural world is at the core of some types of planet. Q-carbon is harder than diamond, it is ferromagnetic and glows when exposed to even low levels of energy. "We can create diamond nanoneedles or microneedles, nanodots, or large-area diamond films, with applications for drug delivery, industrial processes and for creating high-temperature switches and power electronics," says team member Jay Narayan.

A greener, microwave method for making photocatalysts for wastewater remediation has been developed by researchers in Australia and Thailand. Photocatalysts, such as titanium dioxide and bismuth vanadate are commonly used to clean wastewater, break down dyes and kill bacteria. However, their production is rather energy intensive. Now, Jun Chen of the University of Wollongong and colleagues there and at Chiang Mai University and the National Nanotechnology Center have sidestepped the high pressure hydrothermal syntheses of bismuth vanadate using microwave radiation. The new method is a simplified, one-step process carried out at 60-90 degrees Celsius, making it industrially viable and safer. It is also much quicker - compared to the standard 6 hours, the new method takes just 16 minutes.

The enzyme MMP-8 goes by several names: matrix metalloproteinase-8, neutrophil collagenase and PMNL collagenase. It is well known to biomedical research for its role in the breakdown of extracellular matrixin during normal physiological processes, such as embryonic development, reproduction, and tissue remodeling. It also known to play a part in disease processes, such as arthritis and metastases. Now, a team at the University of Cambridge working with industrial colleagues have identified another role for the enzyme in the body. The enzyme can disable the immune molecule interleukin-13, IL-13, which is known to play an important role in several inflammatory diseases. The discovery could have implications for treating respiratory disorders, such as asthma and dermatitis.

Ionic liquids have been touted as environment friendly alternatives to volatile organic solvents for many years. Now, two research teams at Umeå University, Sweden, have shown that switchable ionic liquids can sustain enzymatic activity, thus paving the way for the enzymatic refinement of cellulose to useful molecules and industrial products. The team outlines details of the switchable ionic liquid (SIL) formed by monoethanol amine (MEA) and 1,8-diazabicyclo-[5.4.0]-undec-7-ene (DBU) with sulfur dioxide as the coupling media in the journal ChemSusChem. "This development will be of major importance to the measurement of enzymatic catalysis in complex solutions and preparations, and the method is already being used in new projects," explains team member Jyri-Pekka Mikkolas.

Electronic cigarettes, e-cigs, have been seen as a healthier alternative for those who need a nicotine fix than inhaling the fumes from burning tobacco. Now, researchers at Penn State College of Medicine have thrown cold water on the idea that "vaping" really is a safe alternative to smoking, having demonstrated the presence of highly reactive free radicals in e-cig vapour. Free radicals are considered a culprit in smoking-related cancer, cardiovascular disease and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. "This is the first step," John Richie says. "The identification of these radicals in the aerosols means that we can't just say e-cigarettes are safe because they don't contain tobacco. They are potentially harmful. Now we have to find out what the harmful effects are."