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This week The Alchemist's thoughts turn to fall leaves, living longer with NMN, and Pollock's paints. We hear of a new whiskery mineral and a method for hydrogenating graphene. Finally, a Buffalo award to cope with.

At the end of summer, as the leaves of deciduous trees change color, the evergreen articles about how and why this happens appear in the popular science press. However, autumnal leaves contain substances that might be technologically useful including all those brightly colored pigments, carbohydrates, proteins and compounds that inhibit the growth of harmful bacteria. Liisa Nohynek, Senior Scientist at the VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland and her colleagues are working on leaf-processing technologies that might be used by the cosmetics, textile and feed and food industries. "In laboratory experiments, we discovered several, promising alternative ways of utilizing leaves. Piloting assays are under way, in which we are examining how our methods work in practice and what quantities of valuable compounds can be extracted from the leaves," Nohynek says.

The next big thing when it comes to so-called anti-aging supplements could be a compound known whimsically as NMN, nicotinamide mononucleotide. Scientists at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis have demonstrated increased longevity in mice fed this natural product. They suggest that its mode of action may be to compensate for a loss of energy production, and so reduce typical signs of aging such as gradual weight gain, loss of insulin sensitivity and decline in physical activity. Human cells carry out the same process, so the team alludes to the benefits of NMN potentially being seen in older people as well as elderly mice. NMN is the metabolic compound one step back from the molecular key to energy-production, NAD, nicotinamide adenine dinucleotide biochemical production of which falls with age. It is found naturally in broccoli, cabbage, cucumber, edamame (immature soybeans) and avocado.

Art conservation scientists and others have used macro X-ray fluorescence mapping (MA-XRF) and multivariate curve resolution-alternating least squares (MCR-ALS) analysis to test the paints used in Jackson Pollock's artwork known simply as Number 1A, 1948. The findings reveal handprints beneath multiple layers of drips and splashes which could help inform art historians as to Pollock's process in more detail than was previously known. The same data might also facilitate conservation efforts now that the detail ingredients of his paints can be identified.

Tiny whisker-like cylinders of a novel mineral reveal themselves under micro-Raman spectroscopy and scanning electron microscopy thanks to work led by Michigan Technological University and physicist John Jaszczak who had a hunch that the layered structure rich in molybdenum, lead and sulfur he was looking at and having sourced it in the famous gem mining region of Tanzania, Merelani. Merelaniite has none of the flashy glow of gemstones but it has an intricate, internal microscopic beauty. Detailed studies may well lead to useful applications for this exotic material.

Graphene has been touted as a marvel of the modern age with its superior conductivity and other properties. However, it cannot be directly used as an alternative to silicon in semiconductor electronics because it does not have a band gap. Hydrogenating the all-carbon substance could open up that band gap and make it more useful still, according to scientists at the Institute for Basic Science in South Korea. The team has used a Birch-type reaction, to introduce hydrogen on to graphene, they found that the reagents could traverse bilayers and trilayers of graphene and so hydrogenate each layer equally well. The optical and electronic properties of the graphene were changed significantly by the process.

Sherry Chemler of the University of Buffalo, New York, USA, will be the American Chemical Society's 2017 Arthur C. Cope Scholar in recognition of her contributions to the field of organic chemistry. The award comes with $5,000 cash, a certificate and a $40,000 unrestricted research grant. The Chemler group focuses on developing and discovering new reactions for organic synthesis with the use of transition metal catalysis. Her team also studies the effects of small organic molecules in a biological setting.