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Under The Alchemist’s gaze this week chilling news of three-particle systems, a new poop test for C diff, a newly discovered immune switch, how to recycle tracking water, simpler nano wires and an Indian first for chemistry.


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Chilling news

Even at conditions close to absolute zero atoms can interact and manage to form chemical bonds, according to work done by researchers at the Joint Quantum Institute at the University of Maryland. A team there has formulated a theory to describe the properties of so-called Efimov states, in which three-particle systems might be stable even though two-particle systems at these temperatures are not. The theory should allow scientists to predict the rates of chemical processes involving three atoms – or even more – using only information about the interacting forces involved.

Poop sniff test

It’s a dirty job, but nobody’s got to do it any more. Researchers from the University of Leicester, UK, have developed an electronic nose that can sniff out the chemical signs of disease in a feces sample. The system based on mass spectrometry can detect the chemical signature of the potentially deadly microbe Clostridium difficile, which is a serious health concern in hospitals and elsewhere. Writing in the journal Metabolomics, the team explains that the same system might be able to detect different strains. Some forms of C diff cause stomach pain and diarrhea other, but there are strains that can be lethal, particularly in vulnerable patients.

Immune switch

Researchers at the University of Bristol, UK, have discovered how cells in the immune system switch from being aggressive to actually protecting against disease, the finding could be important in our understanding of autoimmune diseases such as multiple sclerosis. The work may one day lead to an intervention that deactivate the cells that are attacking healthy body tissues in such diseases, which also include the likes of type 1 diabetes, Graves’ disease and systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE).

Recycling fracking water

Fracking, hydraulic fracturing, is one of the most controversial technologies for extracting fossil fuels from within the Earth’s crust. Concerns abound regarding its putative effects on the environment not least because of the chemicals involved and the pollution it can generate. Now, researchers at Rice University in Texas are hoping to find a solution to the problem of recycling fracking water. The team has analyzed “produced” water from three underground shale gas formations that have been subject to fracking and tested amounts of total carbon (TC), non-purgable organic carbon (NPOC) and total inorganic carbon (TIC) in the samples. Andrew Barron and colleagues provide details of the implications of their work in the aptly named journal Environmental Science: Processes and Impacts.

Simpler nanowires

A “simple” one-step method for growing germanium nanowires from aqueous solution for use in making the next generation of lithium-ion rechargeable batteries has been developed by researchers at Missouri University of Science and Technology. Jay Switzer and colleagues discovered that their well-known electrodeposition technique for nano construction was not thermodynamically feasible for growing nanowires from aqueous solutions so they turned to liquid metal electrodes for the present work; a technique devised by Stephen Maldonado’s team at the University of Michigan. Electrochemical liquid-liquid-solid process allowed them to reduce indium tin oxide (ITO) to indium nanoparticles in a solution containing germanium(IV) dioxide and then to crystallize the nanowires from this mixture.

Indian first

Thomas John Colacot is the first Indian-born chemist to win the American Chemical Society’s prestigious Award in Industrial Chemistry. Colacot is the global R&D manager for homogenous catalysis at Johnson Matthey, directing research in US, UK and in India. The award recognizes recognize his outstanding contribution to the development and commercialization of widely used ligands and pre-catalysts for metal-catalyzed organic synthesis, particularly cross-couplings.


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