ChemWeb Newsletter

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This week The Alchemist learns how to keep his batteries warm when the winter chills begin, how not to clean the home aquarium, how to make cancer chemotherapy 50 times more effective and what happens when phonons become entangled. There is an environmental conflict yet to be resolved in California over methane leakage and finally, there's a Chinese cooperation award for a supramolecular chemist.

The problems of rechargeable lithium ion batteries overheating and even spontaneously combusting are well known. Conversely, cold weather is anathema to such power supplies as they fail to function when it gets too chilly. Now, researchers at Pennsylvania State University have developed a battery that self-heats if its temperature falls below the freezing point of water. "It is a longstanding problem that batteries do not perform well at subzero temperatures," explains Chao-Yang Wang. "This may not be an issue for phones and laptops, but is a huge barrier for electric vehicles, drones, outdoor robots and space applications." The new "all-climate" battery has a nickel foil attached to its negative terminal with the other extending outside the cell to create a third terminal. A temperature sensor allows current to flow when the temperature falls leading to resistive heating and switches off again once the battery is warm enough.

Home aquarium owners are being warned that the "red tide" toxin made by algae could be present in their tanks and be a serious health risk to fans of fish. "Raising brightly colored tropical fish and coral in a home aquarium is like displaying a living work of art," a report from the American Chemical Society says. It adds that this life art could well be toxic. It warns the aquarium owners not to use hot water to clean their tanks as this can lead to water vapor loaded with algal toxins which users might then breathe in. There have been numerous reports of owners having fevers, difficulty breathing, flu-like symptoms and other health problems.

A fifty times lower dose of chemotherapy is all that's needed to treat drug-resistant lung cancer, according to scientists at the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill. They have investigated the effects of paclitaxel, an anticancer compound first extracted from the Pacific yew tree and commonly known by the trade name Taxol. They key to success, say Elena Batrakova and colleagues was to package up the drug in exosomes harvested from the patient's own white blood cells, which allows the drug to be smuggled into cancerous tissues without the delivery agent being recognized as alien material by the immune system.

Trapping two laser-cooled calcium ions has allowed scientists in Japan to demonstrate quantum interference, not of particles nor of waves per se, but of energy in the form of phonons. The phenomenon could have implications for the development of ion traps in quantum information processing and quantum computation. This quantum interference effect, well known with photons, has not, until now, been observed with phonons, the units of vibrational energy that arises as atoms oscillate within condensed matter. The Osaka group's demonstration of this phenomenon could allow quantum simulation to be carried out with phonons and allow quantum interface research to be undertaken.

Air quality regulators in California have deigned that methane gas leaking from a ruptured subterranean pipeline should not be captured and burnt off. The sulfurous stench of odorized methane has led to the relocation of 6000 households from the Porter Ranch community of northern Los Angeles at the edge of the leaking Aliso Canyon gas storage field. Many locals and campaigners would like to see the facility shut down completely. However, that does not address the problem of the methane leak, which amounts to almost 1400 tonnes of gas each day.

Organic chemist and supramolecular pioneer Peter Stang of the University of Utah and six other foreign scientists have received the 2015 International Science and Technology Cooperation Award from Chinese President Xi Jinping in the Great Hall of the People on Tiananmen Square in Beijing. “I said ‘thank you’ to him in Chinese and he smiled,” Stang said in a statement.