What Does Chemistry Really Contribute to the World?

ACS journals offer readers an extraordinary breadth of research and cutting-edge science from around the world. Every day, articles published in the journals influence and inspire scientists, policymakers, industry and the general public. We have compiled some of the latest fascinating research that shows how relevant chemistry is to our everyday lives.

The world of science—and chemistry in particular—can seem far removed from our everyday lives. Experiments performed by lab coat-wearing technicians do not always seem accessible or relevant. Yet the raw science of molecules and compounds can and does apply itself to solving real-world problems. Here is a selection of recent advances in applied chemistry published in ACS journals that can and will make a substantive difference to how we live.

Reversing the decline of the honey bee
The decline of the honey bee has been a major global concern for the past decade. These small but busy creatures are vital for our ecosystem, and their loss could be catastrophic. One of the factors that may contribute to their reduced numbers is the use of insecticides that wash from farmland into rivers and streams – particularly neonicotinoids. Recent research published in ACS has shown that the normal breakdown of these chemicals cannot occur without sunlight, and even a few inches of water is enough to prevent the insecticide breaking down. Understanding this chemical process could save the honey bee and other wildlife from an untimely demise.
Read the full article from Environmental Science & Technology Letters  

Creating sustainable and safe battery power
There is a continued drive to find ways to use sunlight to make fuels and generate electricity for our energy-hungry society. Metal-ion batteries are in most of our gadgets, but they take a long time to charge, rely on electricity sources, and can overheat or catch fire if they are damaged – an imperfect way to power our personal devices. Research is ongoing into a safer and more sustainable photo battery, which uses normal indoor lighting to recharge itself in just 30 seconds, enough to power a light-emitting diode (LED) for 100 cycles. Although not yet strong enough to power our phones, this technology offers significant potential for the future.
Read the full article from The Journal of Physical Chemistry

Automatic, needle-free treatment for diabetes patients
Living with type 1 diabetes (previously known as juvenile diabetes) means constant monitoring of blood sugar, in addition to the burden of insulin injections, which can be difficult for younger patients. Current treatments require patients to track their levels and calculate their insulin needs, but there may often be a delay between when a dose is needed and when it takes effect in the body. Research published by the ACS has taken a step towards automatic, needle-free drug delivery with the development of an artificial pancreas – an implanted device to compute and administer doses. After promising results from computer testing, the device will now be trialed in animal models.
Read the full article from Industrial & Engineering Chemistry Research

The rise of the robots
It sounds like science fiction, but treating patients with nanorobots could soon be a real option. Tiny nano particles programmed to behave in a certain way could allow doctors to deliver drugs to specific targets within the body. The development of nanoswimmers has been reported – three components linked in a chain as long as a silk fiber is wide, and which move in an undulatory way to swim through fluids. These were able to swim through fluid thicker than blood at a speed of one body length a second, directed to their target by a magnetic field. Programmed nanoswimmers could have application in many medical fields, including wiping out specific types of cancer cells.
Read the full article from Nano Letters 

Simplifying the diagnosis of heart attacks
Diagnosing a heart attack requires many tests and expensive equipment – luxuries which are not always available in remote or low-income areas. To help solve this, scientists have looked at ways to measures the level of a protein called troponin – which rises when the heart is damaged or its blood supply is cut off, and so offers a good indicator that a person has had or might be at risk of a heart attack. Researchers have developed a simple device like a thermometer that can be read by eye. This uses special nanoparticles, ink and a vial attached to a thin tube. When blood containing troponin is mixed with the nanoparticles the ink in the tube will rise, allowing a measurement to be taken.
Read the full article from Analytical Chemistry

Flexible electronics with green credentials
Despite the rapid evolution of smart technology and gadgets, the physical devices themselves remain housed in solid cases. Efforts to create bendable electronics have relied on petroleum-based plastics and toxic chemicals, but now researchers have made progress with a nanocellulose paper made from wood flour that contains tiny semiconducting crystals which allow it to glow. This technology could pave the way for flexible electronics made from sustainable and renewable sources – a significant step forward for the industry.
Read the full article from ACS Applied Materials and Interfaces 

Nanorobots and flexible glowing paper might seem like far-fetched ideas, but these scientific advances will shape how our future society evolves and changes its use of technologies. Over the past few decades, we have already witnessed a seismic shift in the way we communicate, work and learn. The photo battery could help reduce our reliance on electricity grids, while heart patients could reap the benefits of automated and targeted medical therapies. Chemistry is central to the work being done in these areas and so many other scientific areas of advancement. Understanding the natural world and the processes within it affords us the ability to harness science in a way that benefits our everyday lives.

If you have comments or questions for the author of this post, please e-mail: Axial@acs.org.