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The Alchemist gets tied in a tight molecular knot this week, learns how to predict the future at the quantum level, finds out about a non-stick material that shrugs off blood like water off a duck's back, and finds a nutritional explanation as to why some adolescent female students suffer from bad moods, we're also on the trail of the plastic pine this week. Finally, Happy 150th Birthday to German chemistry!
Scientists in the UK can now see the wood for the trees having found a way to make plastic from pine trees. Pinene is the fragrant chemical found in the terpene family of natural products that gives pine trees their characteristic fresh scent. It is also a significant waste product of the paper industry given that pine wood pulp is a common raw material. Degradable polyesters such as PLA (polylactic acid) are manufactured from corn or sugar cane but these polymers usually require a petroleum-derived additive, caprolactone, to make them flexible, reducing their green credentials. A team from the University of Bath has found that pinene can be used instead of caprolactone to make an entirely biodegradable alternative plastic.
2017 is the 150th anniversary year of the Deutsche Chemische Gesellschaft (DChG), the predecessor to the Gesellschaft Deutscher Chemiker (GDCh, the German Chemical Society) established by August Wilhelm von Hofmann in Berlin in 1867. The complete history of the societies is somewhat more complicated given the impact of World War II and of the formation of East and West Germany and then the reunification. However, the GDCh will be celebrating chemistry through the year and looking to the future and how chemistry might address the big problems humanity faces on a global scale.
Researchers in the UK have tied the tightest knot ever with molecular string, the iron-centered structure which braids several molecular strands could lead to novel materials, according to David Leigh and colleagues at the University of Manchester. Being able to make different types of molecular knots means that scientists should be able to probe how knotting affects strength and elasticity of materials which will enable them to weave polymer strands to generate new types of materials.
Predicting what happens in a quantum system and critical the collapse of such a system might allow technologists to pre-empt the decoherence that leads to the demise of a quantum device. Michael Biercuk of the University of Sydney and his team have demonstrated that they can suppress decoherence in a preventative manner. Given that experimental quantum devices work for seconds rather than years, this new understanding could be applied to taking back control of such systems qubit by qubit and eventually building them into stable quantum computers and other devices.
Materials with a superomniphobic surface that repels blood and other substances could improve medical implant and prosthetic technology by reducing the risk of rejection and perhaps even precluding the growth of bacterial films. Stents, catheters and other medical devices inserted or implanted into the body can suffer from rejection problems, adhesion and clot formation, which leads to problems for the patient. A new material comprising fluorinated nanotubes can be used to coat titanium and other substrates and endows them with the most non-stick of properties. The team has now fabricated and tested these surface coatings in the laboratory with the clinic awaiting for testing real medical devices.
Could a simple zinc deficiency be to blame for mood swings in adolescent female students? Researchers have found through a combination of survey and atomic absorption spectroscopy that there is a correlation between a lack of zinc in the diet, a deficiency and mood problems in teenage female students. They have taken into account the obvious confounding factors such as hormonal and educational challenges the girls face regularly as well as their family and environmental factors and the correlation persists. The answer, of course, would be improved diet with foods rich in zinc or dietary supplementation, which might be the best solution in parts of the world where zinc deficiency is common.