Category: Chemical & Engineering News (C&EN)

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 […]

April 5, 2018

Fluorescent Sensor Provides Early Warning for Blocked Catheters

By Melissae Fellet, for C&EN

Researchers have devised a new early warning system for catheter blockages: a polymer disk, placed in a urine collection bag, that releases a fluorescent dye. Visual confirmation of urinary tract infections involved with blocked catheters may help reduce antibiotic use or unnecessary procedures, the researchers say. The bacterium Proteus mirabilis causes 20 to 45% of catheter-associated urinary […]

April 4, 2018

Delivering DNA on the Tips of Nanospears

By Katherine Bourzac for C&EN

Aiming nanosized spears at cells could be an easy and inexpensive way to dispense gene therapy. In an early proof-of-concept study, nanospears—propelled by a magnetic field—successfully hit target cells in a dish and safely transferred their genetic cargo inside. Gene therapies involve genetically engineering the body’s tissues by inserting DNA into cells. In a dish, […]

April 3, 2018

Hardy Hydrogel Cleans Water

By Louisa Dalton, for C&EN

Contaminants that are small, negatively charged anions are not easy to remove from water sources. But now researchers have come up with a method to do just that: They’ve created a hydrogel that can slurp up anions and then be plucked out of the water, rinsed, and reused.  Unwanted anions in water cause all sorts […]

April 2, 2018

Melting Snow Piles with an Aluminum Blanket

By Prachi Patel for C&EN

Tired of waiting for those mountains of snow hogging precious parking spaces and blocking sidewalks to melt? Now engineers have come up with a simple contraption to shrink those piles quickly: a blanket that absorbs the sun’s rays and conducts heat, melting snow three times as fast as it would melt on its own. Snow […]

March 30, 2018

Improving a Plastic-Degrading Enzyme for Better PET Recycling

By Melissae Fellet, for C&EN

Stabilizing a bacterial enzyme by strategically decorating it with sugars could help it to recycle one of the most widely used plastics and ultimately keep that plastic out of the landfill. Soda, water, and shampoo bottles made from polyethylene terephthalate (PET) are typically recycled by grinding them into small flakes, which are then used to […]

March 29, 2018

Kirigami Cuts Create Strong But Removable Adhesive

By Prachi Patel for C&EN

Borrowing a page from the Japanese paper-cutting art of kirigami, researchers have made tape that is 10 times as sticky as uncut tape but is also easy to pull free and then reuse. The reversible adhesive could be used to make wall-climbing robots, wearable tattoolike sensors, and bandages that come off without making you wince. […]

March 28, 2018

Oil and Gas Wastewater Leaves Radium in Pennsylvania Stream Sediments

By Deirdre Lockwood, for C&EN

Despite a 2011 Pennsylvania guideline curbing the discharge of wastewater from the hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, industry to water treatment plants, high levels of radium are still settling in some of the state’s stream sediments, according to a new study. The results suggest that some treatment plants that process wastewater derived from conventional oil and […]

February 15, 2018

How Lanthanides Keep Volcanic Bacteria Alive

By Mark Peplow, special to C&EN

Ten years ago, in a steaming volcanic mudpot in Italy, microbiologists discovered a bizarre bacterium—the first known organism that couldn’t live without lanthanides. To help it feed on methane, Methylacidiphilum fumariolicum relies on a methanol dehydrogenase (MDH) enzyme that has a rare-earth element such as cerium or lanthanum at its heart. Now, Eric J. Schelter of the University of […]

February 2, 2018

Why Baking Soda Could Help Boost the Killing Power of Some Antibiotics

By Erika Gebel Berg for C&EN

With antibiotic resistance on the rise, scientists are looking everywhere for better treatment approaches, even inside a box of baking soda—otherwise known as sodium bicarbonate. Bicarbonate ions, like the ones in this kitchen staple, act as a ubiquitous buffer in the human body. In a new study, scientists have figured out that bicarbonate diminishes the […]

January 24, 2018

Diagnosing Ebola Immunity with a Paper Test

By Prachi Patel for C&EN

To combat deadly outbreaks of Ebola, researchers need a variety of simple, portable tests that help them control and treat infections. Now researchers have developed a paper-based strip that detects immunity against this viral infection. The new test uses a color-changing paper strip similar to store-bought pregnancy kits and is read using a smartphone. Traditional […]

January 22, 2018

Tropical Tree Seeds Provide Sustainable Water Filtration

By Deirdre Lockwood, for C&EN

Researchers have designed a simple drinking water filtration method using sand combined with the extract of seeds from a tree commonly found in equatorial regions. A small prototype filter completely removed bacteria from water in which the concentration of Escherichia coli was more than 100,000 times as great as that of wastewater. The researchers hope to develop […]

January 17, 2018

Two-Dimensional Materials Could Enable Low-Power Telecommunications

By Katherine Bourzac for C&EN

Two-dimensional materials can be exploited to make a new kind of electronic device that researchers have dubbed an atomristor. In early stage studies, the researchers have demonstrated a possible application for atomristors in low-power communications circuits. The device’s name comes from “atomically thin memristor.” Memristors are the odd cousin of the electronics family, capable of […]

January 11, 2018

Spinning Yarn for a Wash-and-Wear Energy Harvester

By Katherine Bourzac for C&EN

To Georgia Tech’s Zhong Lin Wang, even tossing and turning in bed is a possible source of renewable energy. Wang’s group has made energy-harvesting yarns—primarily composed of common garment materials like polyester, cotton, silk, and wool—that can be woven into brightly colored, washable, power-generating textiles. Sewn into socks, sweaters, and other clothes, the fabrics can harvest […]

January 8, 2018

Ironing Out Graphene’s Wrinkles

By Katherine Bourzac for C&EN

With a carefully engineered substrate, researchers can grow high-quality graphene free of troublesome wrinkles that often form during manufacture. The supersmooth two-dimensional material has improved electrical properties over rumpled graphene grown by the usual methods. In theory, pristine graphene has superlative electrical, mechanical, and other properties that could be used to make speedy, energy-efficient electronics […]

January 5, 2018

Detergent-Based Artificial Tongue Identifies Bottled Water Brands

By Prachi Patel for C&EN

A new, easy-to-make artificial tongue can distinguish different brands of bottled water. The simple chemical sensor uses a single type of fluorescent molecule to detect and quantify 13 different metal ions. Fluorescent sensors are excellent for detecting minute, nanomolar levels of target chemicals in solution in real time. In these applications, molecules typically include two […]

January 4, 2018

A Greener Way to Get Lithium?

By Deirdre Lockwood, for C&EN

The lightest metal is in heavy demand, thanks to the ever-growing market for cell phones, electric cars, and other products that rely on lithium-ion batteries. Experts debate whether the supply of lithium can keep up with this demand. A newly improved sorbent could offer an environmentally friendly way to get lithium from a relatively untapped […]

December 8, 2017

Luminescent Nanoparticles Leave a Glowing Fingerprint

By Melissae Fellet, for C&EN

A new fingerprinting technique that uses long-lived luminescent nanoparticles provides sharp images of otherwise invisible prints. The method offers better resolution than standard fingerprinting for forensic investigation, the researchers say. When collecting fingerprints at crime scenes, investigators choose from a handful of reagents to reveal the patterns deposited on surfaces by skin oils and proteins. […]

November 24, 2017

Supercharged Bleach Powers Greener Oxidations

By Louisa Dalton, for C&EN

Run-of-the-mill liquid bleach, aqueous NaOCl, is an attractive green option for industrial oxidations. It’s cheap, doesn’t tend toward explosive reactions like hydrogen peroxide, doesn’t require metal catalysts, and its waste product is table salt. But it is tough to work with and inefficient on a large scale. Now researchers have determined that an extra-pure, crystallized […]