Category: Chemical & Engineering News (C&EN)

December 4, 2018

Protein Captures Lanthanide Traces

By Mark Peplow, special to C&EN

Lanthanides were once thought to have no role in biology, but that dogma was shattered when researchers discovered bacteria that rely on these elements to survive. Yet the microbes’ ability to gather highly insoluble lanthanide ions from their environment has remained a puzzle. Joseph A. Cotruvo Jr. and colleagues at Pennsylvania State University have now […]

November 30, 2018

Uncovering the Chemical Secrets of Burned Bones

By Alla Katsnelson, for C&EN

Burned bones hold stories. From them, anthropologists can gather clues about how an ancient culture dealt with its dead or cooked its meat; forensic scientists might glean identifying information about victims of a house fire or a terrorist attack. Yet it has been notoriously difficult to extract useful information from burned bones because fire dramatically […]

November 19, 2018

New Modification Strategy Gives MOFs Bigger Pores

By Neil Savage, special to C&EN

Metal-organic frameworks (MOFs)—hybrid materials that stitch organic linkers and metal bits into a meshlike structure—are popular for catalysis and chemical sensing, and even as carriers for drug delivery. Those applications could work better if chemists could make the pores bigger. Now researchers have shown a way to clip off organic ligands in MOFs to turn […]

November 16, 2018

Mushroom-like Nanowires Form Superstretchy Conductive Films

By Prachi Patel for C&EN

By growing a forest of fine, densely packed gold nanowires on a rubbery surface, researchers have made ultrastretchable conductive films for electronic devices. The film can stretch up to nine times its original dimensions, greater than any elastic conductor made so far. Soft, thin, and stretchable electronics could be the basis for sensors that can […]

November 8, 2018

Synthetic Biology Cracks Blue Rose Case

By Mark Peplow, special to C&EN

For the FBI investigators of David Lynch’s Twin Peaks television series, “blue rose” cases involved the paranormal, the supernatural, and the downright weird. It’s an appropriate symbol: Blue roses do not grow naturally, and centuries of rose breeding have yet to create one that is unarguably blue. Now, scientists have created what they claim is […]

November 7, 2018

Charmed Fairy Chemical Derivatives May Work on the Farm

By Louisa Dalton, for C&EN

Underlying lush circles of turf called “fairy rings” is a natural product made by fungi that spurs the growth of grass. Researchers have now created a bioactive compound that stimulates this growth even better than the natural compound. Crafted via C–H activation, these potent variants should help elucidate the fairy ring chemical mechanism and may […]

October 17, 2018

Slippery Liquid-Repellent Surface Toughs It Out

By Prachi Patel for C&EN

Surfaces that ward off liquids can keep ice off roofs, bacterial films off medical implants, and barnacles off ships. In an effort to keep such surfaces slippery for longer periods of time, researchers have developed a new kind of liquid-repelling coating that can heal itself when damaged. A slippery liquid-repellent coating is made of silicone […]

October 12, 2018

Bile Acids Sneak Nanoparticles into the Bloodstream

By Erika Gebel Berg for C&EN

Bile has a bad rap and often connotes an ill temper. But it plays a critical role in digestion and, thanks to new work, might eventually reduce the need for needles. While most people prefer oral medications to shots, many agents can’t be swallowed because gut enzymes would destroy molecules before they could work. To […]

October 10, 2018

A New Process for Nutrient Loss in the Ocean?

By Deirdre Lockwood, for C&EN

A newly identified microbial process may be stealing nutrients from phytoplankton, the microorganisms at the base of the ocean food web. The process could change researchers’ understanding of nutrient cycling in the ocean, which influences the growth of these microscopic marine plants and bacteria and their effect on climate. Like plants on land, phytoplankton use […]

October 2, 2018

Photocatalyst Shreds Drinking Water Contaminant PFOA

By Deirdre Lockwood, for C&EN

A new photocatalyst could help clean up the industrial pollutant perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA), which contaminates drinking water in many parts of the U.S. and recently triggered a state of emergency in Michigan. PFOA and another common perfluorinated contaminant, perfluorooctane sulfonate (PFOS), may threaten human health through chronic exposure at the parts per trillion level by […]

October 1, 2018

Making Sustainable Battery Electrodes from Sawdust

By Katherine Bourzac for C&EN

Biofuel made from woody waste such as sawdust can serve as a carbon-neutral alternative to petroleum-based fuels. But the economics of producing this type of biofuel don’t work without policy measures such as carbon taxes or other subsidies, which can be politically difficult to enact. Now researchers have found a way to greatly increase the […]

2018 Nobel Prize in Chemistry

September 25, 2018

Get Expert Predictions for the 2018 Nobel Prize in Chemistry

By Jesse Stanchak

If you can’t wait to learn who the winner (or winners!) of this year’s Nobel Prize in Chemistry will be, you’re not alone. While the awardees won’t be announced until the morning of Oct. 3, Chemical & Engineering News has assembled an illustrious panel of experts to deliver their chemistry Nobel Prize predictions. Want to […]

September 20, 2018

Supramolecular Transformer Morphs Into Different Shapes

By Melissae Fellet, for C&EN

In metal-containing supramolecular complexes, organic ligands self-assemble around metal atoms to form molecular cages of various sizes and shapes. Researchers can change a complex’s shape by changing either the metal or the ligand, but they are still learning how to produce a desired shape by design. Now, researchers have created a supramolecular complex that converts […]

September 19, 2018

Scorpion Venom Yields Novel Alkaloid

By Emma Hiolski

Scorpion venom packs more than a painful sting. It’s also chock full of novel bioactive compounds—most of them polypeptides—that intrigue scientists. For the first time, researchers have identified an alkaloid from a scorpion’s chemical cocktail. Scorpions deliver venom through menacing stingers at the ends of their tails. Found on every continent except Antarctica, the creatures […]

September 18, 2018

Cleaned Pollen Shells Ready for Drug Delivery

By Alla Katsnelson, for C&EN

Pollen, best known as an immune system irritant that elicits allergic reactions in the form of sneezes and snot, may one day bring medical treatment instead of misery. The strong shells of pollen grains don’t break down on contact with enzymes in the body, and their complex shapes make them stick especially well to cells—which […]

September 17, 2018

Nitrous Oxide from Tibetan Permafrost Packs Global Warming Punch

By Janet Pelley, for C&EN

Permafrost, the perennially frozen layer of soil found in cold regions, releases the greenhouse gases carbon dioxide and methane as it thaws—a problem becoming more prevalent with global climate change. But permafrost researchers have often overlooked emissions of nitrous oxide, a gas with 300 times the warming power of CO2. Now, a new study estimates that […]

September 14, 2018

Graphene-Based Device Enables Active Thermal Camouflage

By Katherine Bourzac for C&EN

Researchers have made a thermal camouflage device from graphene that can adjust how much heat it emits in response to the background temperature. The material could be used to hide people and planes from night-vision cameras, but also help satellites survive extreme temperatures in space or lead to more responsive home heating systems. Above absolute […]

September 13, 2018

Membrane Knocks Out Antibiotic-Resistant Bacteria

By XiaoZhi Lim, for C&EN

Wastewater treatment plants have become hotspots for the development of antibiotic resistance. There, surrounded by traces of antibiotics and other adversaries, large numbers of bacteria mingle and trade genes, including those for antibiotic resistance, and rapidly evolve into hardier strains. To reduce the spread of this resistance, wastewater treatment methods must eliminate not only bacteria but […]

September 11, 2018

Finding Pillars of Strength for MOFs

By Neil Savage, special to C&EN

The highly porous, large-surface-area structures known as metal-organic frameworks (MOFs) are popular for chemical sensing, gas separation, and catalysis. But they have a weakness: They can be flimsy. Some of the metal and ligand constructions form less robust lattices, and their pore walls can be stretched or broken, rendering them useless. Using a computer model, […]

August 15, 2018

Nanolaser Changes Color when Stretched

By Prachi Patel for C&EN

Inspired by a chameleon’s prowess, researchers have made a tiny elastic laser that changes color as it is stretched and released. The tunable nanolaser system could be used in flexible displays, wearable sensors, and lab-on-a-chip devices. Chameleon skin has a layer of cells containing guanine nanocrystals. When the lizard tenses or relaxes its skin, the […]

August 14, 2018

Giant Crystals in Mexican Cave Face Dehydration

By Emma Hiolski

In a cave below a mountain in the Naica mine of Chihuahua, Mexico, gypsum crystals have grown as big as trees. But researchers now report that loss of water may damage the crystal surfaces. By learning more about the gigantic crystals’ degradation, the scientists hope to better preserve them for generations to come. The crystals—a […]

August 13, 2018

When Good Bees Go Bad

By Emma Hiolski

Honeybee aggression often ends with a sting, but where does it start? Researchers in Brazil have identified peptides in the brains of Africanized honeybees that are linked to aggressive behavior and are capable of making even docile bees attack. These neuropeptides are snippets of precursor proteins present in the brains of relaxed bees, says Mario Sergio Palma of […]

August 10, 2018

Oil and Gas Wastewater is a Cheap Fix for Road Dust but Comes at a Toxic Cost

By Deirdre Lockwood, for C&EN

Wastewater from oil and gas wells that is spread on unpaved roads to control dust contains high levels of the carcinogenic element radium, inorganic salts, and oil and gas hydrocarbons. A new study shows that these harmful components are likely leaching off roads into surrounding soils and water. At least a dozen U.S. states allow […]

August 1, 2018

Multilayer Coating Helps Plastic Dental Devices Stay Clear of Bacteria

By Prachi Patel for C&EN

Invisible teeth aligners have soared in popularity in recent years, especially for adults who don’t want to relive their metal-mouthed teen years. These and other plastic dental appliances such as retainers and night guards are discreet, but bacteria tend to grow in their nooks and crannies, especially as their surfaces get rougher from wear. Researchers […]

July 31, 2018

Contact Charges Flip Expectations

By Neil Savage, special to C&EN

Contact electrification—the proper name for what’s commonly called ”static electricity”—happens when two surfaces are brought together then separated. Any child who has ever rubbed a balloon on her head then watched as strands of hair rose up is familiar with it. Despite its familiarity, there’s very little scientific understanding of the mechanisms behind the phenomenon. […]

July 30, 2018

This Chili Pepper Compound Will Self-Destruct

By Deirdre Lockwood, for C&EN

Capsaicin, the compound that gives chili peppers their heat, is added to some medical creams because of its ability to ease pain and itch. But along with this relief, capsaicin and some of its derivatives can deliver troubling side effects. Now researchers have modified a derivative of capsaicin so that it is inactivated within hours […]

July 27, 2018

Isotopes Could Sniff Out Fake Truffles

By Melissae Fellet, for C&EN

In 2012, a routine check by authorities of a Bologna, Italy, restaurant led to the seizure of more than 300 kg of contraband. If the counterfeit material had been what it purported to be—white truffle puree—today it would sell for over $1 million. A new method offers a way to detect such fungus fraud—distinguishing the […]

July 26, 2018

Stiff-Yet-Supple Plastic Can be Reshaped and Recycled

By Prachi Patel for C&EN

Heat-cured plastics called thermosets can’t be beat for their long lives. But these resilient polymers, used to make coatings, car parts, and dishes, have a flaw: they can’t be reshaped or recycled. Now, a new plastic features the toughness of thermosets in a more sustainable package. Unlike its predecessors, it can be melted and reformed […]

July 25, 2018

Tackling Sustainable Fertilizer Production with an Alternative Electrolyte

By Deirdre Lockwood, for C&EN

mmonia is a vital ingredient in the fertilizers that sustain global agriculture, but it comes with a huge environmental cost. The Haber-Bosch process, which combines nitrogen and hydrogen to make ammonia, consumes about 2% of the world’s energy supply, and its hydrogen feedstock is made by steam reforming methane at high temperature and pressure, producing […]

July 24, 2018

Polymer Solar Cell Hopes to Claim New Record

By Katherine Bourzac for C&EN

y carefully tailoring the electronic properties and side-chain structure of a polymer, researchers have made one of the best performing organic solar cells yet. In tests in the lab, the polymer solar cell converts 14.2% of the energy in sunlight into an electrical current. If certified by one of the gold standard agencies for accrediting […]

July 6, 2018

Small Molecule Could Help Modulate the Microbiome 

By Jyoti Madhusoodanan, for C&EN

Hundreds of microbial species inhabit the human gut and support digestion, immunity, and other functions. Changes in their populations have been linked to diabetes, asthma, cancers and many other diseases. But so far, the complexity of microbial communities has made them impractical targets for controlling disease. Now, researchers report that a small molecule can block […]

July 5, 2018

Tellurium contamination, on the rise, travels to remote areas from industrial sources

By Emma Hiolski

Human activity has contributed to a widespread rise in tellurium contamination over the past century, according to a new study. Tellurium from industrial sources, including metal smelting and coal burning, contaminates not only the local environment but also distant, remote areas, the study shows. This increased deposition and long-range transport could make tellurium an emerging […]

July 2, 2018

3-D-Printed Yeast Cubes Could Speed up Alcohol and Drug Production

By Prachi Patel for C&EN

By infusing a hydrogel with live yeast cells and then using the gel as ink, researchers used three-dimensional printing to make a bioreactor that can ferment sugar into ethanol continuously for days. The printed material, a gel lattice the size of a sugar cube, could make it easier, faster, and cheaper to produce biofuels, brew […]

June 28, 2018

Helium Ion Microscopy Reveals Mysteries of Spiky Bacterial Filaments

By Deirdre Lockwood, for C&EN

Scientists have long been fascinated by the organic-mineral filaments that extend from the surface of some iron-oxidizing bacteria living in environments from streams to hydrothermal vents. But researchers still don’t know exactly how they are formed. Now, using helium ion microscopy (HIM), a relatively new method with higher resolution than scanning electron microscopy (SEM), James […]

June 27, 2018

Serine Octamer Reveals Its Structure

By Melissae Fellet, for C&EN

After more than a decade of effort, researchers have identified the likely structure of the protonated serine octamer, an unusual complex first observed by mass spectrometry almost 20 years ago. Researchers used a combination of computer modeling and advanced infrared spectrometry to confirm this molecular arrangement. The newly reported structure is the first that explains […]

June 26, 2018

Dye, Light, and Sound Reveal Tiny Cracks Deep Inside a Material

By Prachi Patel for C&EN

By teaming tiny capsules of dye with an emerging medical imaging technology, researchers can reveal micrometers-thin cracks lurking inside plastics and composites. The advance could lead to an early-warning system for aerospace parts, medical implants, and oil pipeline coatings, identifying tiny fractures before they grow large enough to trigger failure. The technique allows the researchers […]

June 8, 2018

Microfluidic Device Draws Kidney Dialysis Buffer from Blood

By Jyoti Madhusoodanan, for C&EN

Artificial dialysis mimics the kidneys’ function of filtering wastes from blood, which is crucial to keep patients who are suffering from advanced renal disease alive. Dialysis machines typically work by causing the body’s excess water, urea, creatinine, and other wastes to diffuse into a buffer solution, a process that requires approximately 6 L of dialysis […]

May 24, 2018

Ancient Reaction Inspires Method for Making Porous Catalysts

By Katherine Bourzac for C&EN

A recipe for better electrocatalysts takes inspiration from an ancient reaction used in fireworks, known as the pharaoh’s snakes. With heat and the foaming power of baking soda, a simple mix of ingredients can be turned into a high surface area, nanostructured catalyst for oxygen reduction in fuel cells and zinc-air batteries. Fuel cells offer […]

May 22, 2018

Engineered Silkworms Spin Unusual Amino Acids into Silk

By Erika Gebel Berg for C&EN

Silk is smooth, strong, and biocompatible, making it a prized material for many applications. Scientists have tried all kinds of tricks to improve silk or imbue it with new properties: They have fed silkworms graphene or titanium dioxide to make stronger threads, fed them dyes to incorporate colors, and reprocessed silk to increase its elasticity. In the latest thread of the story, researchers […]