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In the first issue of 2016, The Alchemist learns how diamonds could be a spectroscopist's best friend, how nanoparticles might lead to stronger, low-density metal alloys, and how a titania and gold could purify water by mimicking photosynthesis and transpiration. Medical marijuana is in the news again with successful tests in treating otherwise intractable seizures in children and young adults while the US FDA has just made pizza delivery a whole lot harder. Finally, the reversal of an award.
Taking a leaf out of nature's book, researchers in China have demonstrated how a device that mimics plant photosynthesis and transpiration could be used to bring clean water to the billion or more people across the globe who do not have access to this basic human right. Peng Tao, Wen Shang and colleagues built a three-layer membrane using titanium dioxide nanoparticles, gold nanoparticles and a supporting layer of anodized aluminum oxide. The device cleans water in two ways. First, in a process akin to photosynthesis traps, the titania captures light energy and this breaks down toxic pollutants in the water. Secondly, the gold nanoparticles cause an evaporative type process that leaves behind non-volatile pollutants as a residue.
Cannabidiol (CBD, Epidiolex) a derivative of the active ingredient in Cannabis sativa has been demonstrated to be effective in reducing the frequency of seizures in children and young adults for whom conventional treatment was ineffective. A year-long trial of the compound showed this "medical marijuana" to be well-tolerated and safe. Orrin Devinsky, director of the Comprehensive Epilepsy Center at New York University Langone, and colleagues published details of their findings in the journal Lancet Neurology. "We are very encouraged by our trial results," says Devinsky. "But before we raise hopes for families who regularly deal with the devastation of treatment-resistant epilepsy, more research [is] needed to definitively recommend CBD as a treatment to patients with uncontrolled seizures."
The US Food and Drug Administration has banned three chemicals commonly used in food packaging. Specifically, the ban applies to perfluoroalkyl ethyl containing food-contact substances (FCSs), which are widely used as oil and water repellants for paper and paperboard for use in contact with aqueous and fatty foods such as pizza. The final ruling was published on January 4 and is in response to petitioning from various advocacy and pressure groups that highlighted the safety risks associated with these compounds, namely potential carcinogenicity and teratogenicity.
Chemist Patrick Harran was nominated to become a fellow of The American Association for the Advancement of Science. However, the nomination will no longer proceed to his fellowship after a complete re-evaluation of the submission in light of the accidental death in 2008 of a 23-year-old researcher, Sheharbano Sangji, in Harran's lab. The AAAS is also now reviewing its procedures for its prestigious fellowships.
The first bulk room-temperature NMR hyperpolarization of carbon-13 nuclei in diamond in situ at arbitrary magnetic fields and crystal orientations have been made by US researchers. The six percent boost to bulk nuclear spin polarization is equivalent to a signal enhancement of some 170,000 times over thermal equilibrium, Alexander Pines and colleagues report in the journal Nature Communications and arises through the effects of nitrogen vacancies in the diamond. "We envision highly enhanced NMR of liquids and solids using existing polarization transfer techniques, such as cross-polarization in solids and cross-relaxation in liquids, or direct dynamic nuclear polarization to outside nuclei from nitrogen-vacancy centers," team member Jonathan King explains.
A new strong, but low-density metal composite material based on silicon carbide nanoparticles distributed uniformly in magnesium-zinc alloy has been developed by a team at Missouri University of Science and Technology. The material could have a wide range of applications in improved energy efficiency in aerospace and automobile technology as well as in mobile electronics and medical devices. The nanoscopic dispersion precludes the clumping together of particles observed in other attempts to strengthen metal alloys with ceramics. The approach is scalable but work must now focus on how to take the technology to the level of bulk manufacturing before real-world applications can be realized.