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The Alchemist learns this week of a class of molecule a decade in the making, how to tear crystals apart with sticky tape, the way to bring three-dimensional printing to the bio-masses, about the natural inspiration for stronger, stretchier polymers, and the protein that thinks it's a metal. Finally, double award in analytical science.

It has been more than ten years since chemists first started to search for synthetic routes to a group of compounds made by Streptomyces bacteria, the tetrapetalones. This family of natural products are inhibitors of plant lipoxygenase enzyme, which is equivalent to human enzymes involved in the inflammatory response. There are have been numerous synthetic dead-ends. Now, John Wood and co-workers at Baylor University, USA, have come up with total syntheses tetrapetalone A and C. Analogs of these compounds might be tested and developed into pharmaceuticals that reduce the production of inflammatory leukotrienes and so could be used to treat asthma.

Researchers in Japan have measured the van der Waals force between individual layers of the semiconductor gallium selenide in its atomically thin form. The work which saw the scientists tear apart the layers at the bulk level rather than teasing them apart in the transmission electron microscope using double-sided sticky tape. The process involved tearing the crystal layers apart with a tensile testing machine at a rate of 50 micrometers per second. The study provided a baseline measure of interlayer strength in the material which could then be compared to the strength of the same material doped with tellurium. The addition of just 10% tellurium increases its strength sevenfold.

Biomass derived from sustainable resources can be converted into poly(ethylene-2,5-furandicarboxylate) (PEF), which can then be used as the "ink" for a 3D printer to make a wide range of objects, components, and products. Researchers from the Zelinsky Institute in Moscow, Russia, suggest that we must overcome our ongoing reliance on petrochemicals derived from oil for making plastic components for a vast range of manufactured products. Their approach offer sustainability and recyclability as well as potentially reducing the overall carbon footprint of the manufacturing process.

Elastomers are useful polymers in a wide range of applications from diving suits to safety equipment. Finding new strong polymers has been shown possible by taking inspiration from nature, specifically the byssal threads of mussels. Megan Valentine and colleagues at the University of California Santa Barbara’s Materials Research Laboratory (MRL) have thus found a way to avoid the trade-off between strength and flexibility in elastomeric polymers. The UCSB researchers incorporated the mussel-inspired iron coordination bonds into a dry polymeric system. This is important because such a dry polymer could potentially be substituted for stiff but brittle materials, especially in impact- and torsion-related applications.

A demonstration by researchers at Arizona State University shows that surprisingly a protein can be converted into an electrically conducting material. Stuart Lindsay and his colleagues tether molecules between electrodes in their quest to build a better microscope for biomedical research. The team's recognition tunneling technique is usually used for DNA sequencing but they tried the same approach with a complete protein in the hope of developing a label-free electronic reader for these biomolecules. However, they found that at sufficiently high voltage, the protein begins conducting as if it were a metal. For four years, they have attempted to disprove their own finding as ludicrous, but they have now published their definitive findings in the journal Nano Futures that show that despite the received wisdom, at least one protein can be made to conduct electricity like a metal.

Two chemists from The University of Texas at Arlington are this year cited as among the best and brightest analytical scientists by The Analytical Scientist magazine. Daniel Armstrong and Purnendu “Sandy” Dasgupta are honored in the magazine’s fifth annual Power List edition. The list comprises 10 scientists in 10 categories: Separation Scientists, Spectroscopists, Mass Spectrometrists, Giants of Nano, Pharma Pioneers, Omics Explorers, Public Defenders, Inventors, Mentors, and Leaders.