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This week, The Alchemist takes lessons on chemistry from a physicist, learns how to make the non-stick stickier, turns materials upside down, and measures metals in meat. In pharma news, the octopi have it. Finally, young Koreans rewarded.

Teflon, polytetrafluoroethylene, PTFE is renowned for its non-stick properties. Now, researchers at Osaka University Japan have found a way to make PTFE stick to other materials more effectively than before providing a way to make the slipperiest coatings possible even on materials such as rubber. “With our plasma treatment, we improved the adhesion of the PTFE to some extent, but it was only when we combined this with extra heating of the PTFE that we saw it strongly adhering to rubber," explains team member Yuji Ohkubo. Kazuya Yamamura adds that, “In industrial processes, adding a heater to a plasma chamber is much easier than trying to adjust the temperature through the plasma power. We hope this new technique allows PTFE to be used in new ways that just weren’t possible or practical before.”

It seems to defy logic but turning a material upside down can make it software, according to research by Gustau Catalán and colleagues at the Catalan Institute of Nanoscience and Nanotechnology, ICN2, a non-profit near Barcelona, Spain. The team has demonstrated how the interaction of localized flexoelectric polarization and piezoelectric polarization inherent in polar crystals can make it harder to indent the material - uniaxial ferroelectric lithium niobate - depending on the direction of the indentation or whether or not a voltage is being applied.

Researchers in Brazil have used various techniques including inductively coupled plasma optical spectrometry, Fourier transform infrared (FTIR) spectroscopy, and graphite furnace atomic absorption spectrometry to assess the bioavailability of metals ions found in beef, pork, and chicken after different types of cooking. Meat is considered an important source of mineral ions including calcium, copper, iron, magnesium and zinc, as well as selenium. The team found that the concentrations of each metal element fell when meat was cooked in water, which they suggest is explained by leaching. The biggest loss was of calcium from boiled beef. For chicken and pork, roasting led to a big loss of calcium, although grilling pork was worse in terms of calcium loss.

A unique sequential cell-opening mechanism has inspired researchers at the University of New Hampshire to devise a new drug-delivery system. The system mimics the mechanism that allows cephalopods, such as squid, cuttlefish and octopus to change their skin colour. Additionally, the system might also be exploited perhaps more obviously to make color-changing materials for camouflage and other purposes. The researchers modified chiral geometry of two different cells to make a meta material that mimics the organisms' color-changing organs, their chromatophores. When loaded in one direction only, the two different cells (one large and one small) open sequentially one with a color-changing twist.

Doo-Hyun Ko of Kyung Hee University, Republic of Korea and Yunho Lee of the Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology (KAIST), in Daejeon, are the recipient of this year's KCS-Wiley Young Chemist Awards. The awards are given annually by the Korean Chemical Society (KCS) and publisher John Wiley & Sons to two Korean scientists under the age of 40 for outstanding achievements and contributions to the community. Doo-Hyun Ko studied chemistry at Korea University, Seoul, and at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, USA under Edward Samulski. Yunho Lee studied chemistry at Chonbuk National University, Republic of Korea, and at Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore, Maryland, USA under Kenneth Karlin.

Quantum physicists are offering advice to chemists on how electrons can control reactions. Quantum effects manifest in electrons can, according to Nigel Mason of The Open University, UK, can induce coherence in other molecules. “The ability to control chemical reactions is one of the major goals in chemistry; it would enable scientists and the manufacturing industry to reduce production costs and waste by targeting only the chemicals they want. The discovery that an electron rather than a laser can control the process means that this is approach is cheaper and faster," explains Mason.