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This week, The Alchemist takes a bite out of a solar sandwich, learns about anti-inflammatory crystallography, a new room temperature maser, and how banana waste could make better ice cream, and how sensors on your teeth could be used to track what you eat in health research. Finally, an award for pioneering work in chemical education.

A new way to make "organic" solar cells more efficient side-steps the use of fullerenes and makes a solar sandwich instead. "My group works on key parts of the sandwich, such as the electron and hole transporting layers of the bread, while other groups may work only on the interlayer materials. The question is: How do you get them to play together? The right blend of these disparate materials is extremely difficult to achieve," says team leader André Taylor of New York University. The team has turned to a squaraine molecule as a crystallizing agent that is also an electron donor to enhance the absorption of the active layer. The researchers have reached 10% efficiency, which was considered an unachievable level just a few years ago.

A new type of microwave laser, a maser, has been built by scientists in the UK using diamond. The maser, microwave amplification by stimulated emission of radiation, was invented in 1954 but until now they could only be operated at close to absolute zero. Research in this area has now warmed up. A team from Imperial College London and University College London has developed a maser that operates in continuous mode at room temperature. The new devices follows on from burst-mode maser developed in 2012 at Imperial College that used pentacene. The new device uses a synthetic diamond with introduced vacancies filled with nitrogen atoms where normally there would be carbon. The modified diamond is held in a sapphire ring and bathed with green laser light, this leads to generation of coherent microwaves. Such a relatively simple setup could open up medical imaging and a new type of security scanning as well as new avenues of materials science research.

Adding tiny cellulose fibers, microfibrils, extracted from banana plant waste (rachis) to ice cream could lead to a non-drip form of the dessert, as well as increasing shelf life and potentially reducing total fat content without loss of taste or texture. Speaking at the 255th National Meeting of the American Chemical Society, Robin Zuluaga Gallego of the Universidad Pontificia Bolivariana peeled back the science behind the new approach to the creamy treat. "Our findings suggest that cellulose nanofibers extracted from banana waste could help improve ice cream in several ways," he explains. "In particular, the fibers could lead to the development of a thicker and more palatable dessert, which would take longer to melt and allow for a more relaxing and enjoyable experience with the food, especially in warm weather."

Sensors that can be fixed to your teeth could analyze what you eat and allows studies to track the correlations between diet and health. Monitoring in real time what happens in and around our bodies can be invaluable in the context of health care or clinical studies. Researchers at Tufts University have now invented a technology that could make that easier. In a paper to be published the journal Advanced Materials, researchers note that future adaptations of these sensors could enable the detection and recording of a wide range of nutrients, chemicals, and physiological states.

An international symposium on chemistry education honors Pratibha Varma-Nelson of Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis School Of Science. The symposium coincides with Varma-Nelson being this year's recipient of the George Pimentel Award. The award recognizes his prominent role in influencing how chemistry and other related disciplines are taught in higher education in the USA and abroad.