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Key photosynthetic substance present on Earth before atmospheric oxygen

February 7, 2014 11:19 am | News | Comments

A team of researchers led by Virginia Tech and Univ. of California, Berkeley, scientists has discovered that a regulatory process that turns on photosynthesis in plants at daybreak likely developed on Earth in ancient, methane-producing microbes 2.5 billion years ago, long before oxygen became available. The research opens new scientific areas in the fields of evolutionary biology and microbiology.

Forest emissions, wildfires explain why ancient Earth was so hot

February 6, 2014 8:53 am | by Kevin Dennehy , Yale Univ. | News | Comments

The release of volatile organic compounds from Earth’s forests and smoke from wildfires 3 million years ago had a far greater impact on global warming than ancient atmospheric levels of carbon dioxide, a new Yale Univ. study finds. The research provides evidence that dynamic atmospheric chemistry played an important role in past warm climates, underscoring the complexity of climate change and the relevance of natural components.

Graphene “sandwich” improves imaging of biomolecules

February 5, 2014 12:56 pm | by Jeanne Galatzer-Levy, Univ. of Illinois at Chicago | News | Comments

By sandwiching a biological molecule between sheets of graphene, researchers at the Univ. of Illinois at Chicago have obtained atomic-level images of the molecule in its natural watery environment. Researchers typically rely on relatively thick windows of silicon nitrate to protect specimens in a vacuum environment of an electron microscope, but the atomically-thin graphene sheets promise a major improvement.

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Approach helps identify new biofuel sources that don’t require farmland

February 5, 2014 12:41 pm | News | Comments

While the debate over using crops for fuel continues, scientists are now reporting a new, fast approach to develop biofuel in a way that doesn’t require removing valuable farmland from the food production chain. Their method, which could be employed for other targets, uses atomic force microscopy and a tunable laser source to examine the fuel-producing potential of a soil bacterium known for making antibiotics.

Team develops rapid smartphone-based mercury testing and mapping

February 5, 2014 8:59 am | by Matthew Chin, UCLA | News | Comments

A team of engineers from the Univ. of California, Los Angeles has developed a smartphone attachment and application to test water for the presence of mercury, a toxic heavy metal. The new platform could significantly reduce the time and cost of the testing, and it could be particularly useful in regions with limited technological resources.

Off-the-shelf materials lead to self-healing polymers

February 4, 2014 2:06 pm | News | Comments

Look out, super glue and paint thinner. Thanks to new dynamic materials developed at the Univ. of Illinois, removable paint and self-healing plastics soon could be household products. Other self-healing material systems have focused on solid, strong materials, but this new study uses softer elastic materials made of polyurea, one of the most widely used classes of polymers in consumer goods such as paints, coatings, elastics and plastics.

Technique makes “biogasoline” from plant waste

February 4, 2014 9:08 am | News | Comments

Gasoline-like fuels can be made from cellulosic materials such as farm and forestry waste using a new process invented by chemists at the Univ. of California, Davis. The process could open up new markets for plant-based fuels, beyond existing diesel substitutes.

A disc brake for molecules

February 3, 2014 8:50 am | News | Comments

Nitrogen molecules travel at a speed of more than 1,700 km/hr at room temperature, which means the particles are much too fast for many experiments and applications. However, physicists have now found a rather simple way to slow down polar molecules to about 70 km/hr: centrifugal force. The new method makes it possible to produce relatively large quantities of cold molecules in a continuous flow.

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New catalyst converts greenhouse gases into chemicals

January 31, 2014 11:02 am | by Karen B. Roberts, Univ. of Delaware | News | Comments

A team of researchers at the Univ. of Delaware has developed a highly selective catalyst capable of electrochemically converting carbon dioxide to carbon monoxide with 92% efficiency. The carbon monoxide then can be used to develop useful chemicals. The exceptionally high activity of the new electrocatalyst is due to its extremely large and highly curved internal surface.

Identifying chemical, physical traits of fallout

January 30, 2014 7:55 am | by Anne M. Stark, Lawrence Livermore National Laboraotry | News | Comments

Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory researchers have begun to develop a technique that provides a practical approach for looking into the complex physical and chemical processes that occur during fallout formation following a nuclear detonation. Post-detonation nuclear forensics relies on advanced analytical techniques and an understanding of the physio-chemical processes associated with a nuclear detonation to identify the device type.

River of hydrogen seen flowing through space

January 28, 2014 9:11 am | News | Comments

Using the Robert C. Byrd Green Bank Telescope (GBT), astronomer D.J. Pisano from West Virginia Univ. has discovered what could be a never-before-seen river of hydrogen flowing through space. This very faint, very tenuous filament of gas is streaming into the nearby galaxy NGC 6946 and may help explain how certain spiral galaxies keep up their steady pace of star formation.

Computer power clicks with geochemistry

January 28, 2014 8:10 am | News | Comments

Sandia National Laboratories is developing computer models that show how radioactive waste interacts with soil and sediments, shedding light on waste disposal and how to keep contamination away from drinking water. Researchers have studied the geochemistry of contaminants such as radioactive materials and toxic heavy metals, including lead, arsenic and cadmium. But laboratory testing of soils is difficult.

Engineers teach old chemical new tricks to make cleaner fuels, fertilizers

January 27, 2014 2:03 pm | News | Comments

Researchers from two continents have engineered an efficient and environmentally friendly catalyst for the production of molecular hydrogen (H2), a compound used extensively in modern industry to manufacture fertilizer and refine crude oil into gasoline. The new method can product industrial quantities of hydrogen without emitting carbon into the atmosphere.

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New boron nanomaterial may be possible

January 27, 2014 1:53 pm | News | Comments

Graphene, a sheet of carbon one atom thick, may soon have a new nanomaterial partner. In the laboratory and on supercomputers, chemical engineers have determined that a unique arrangement of 36 boron atoms in a flat disc with a hexagonal hole in the middle may be the preferred building blocks for “borophene.”

Swiss cheese crystal, or high-tech sponge?

January 27, 2014 12:17 pm | by Charlotte Hsu, Univ. at Buffalo | News | Comments

The sponges of the future will do more than clean house. Picture this, for example: Doctors use a tiny sponge to soak up a drug and deliver it directly to a tumor. Chemists at a manufacturing plant use another to trap and store unwanted gases. These technologies are what a Univ. at Buffalo team had in mind when they led the design of a new material called UBMOF-1.

How the “Matthew Effect” helps some scientific papers gain popularity

January 27, 2014 7:40 am | by Peter Dizikes, MIT News Office | News | Comments

Do scientific papers written by well-known scholars get more attention than they otherwise would receive because of their authors’ high profiles? A new study co-authored by an Massachusetts Institute of Technology economist reports that high-status authorship does increase how frequently papers are cited in the life sciences—but finds some subtle twists in how this happens.

Molecules as circuits

January 23, 2014 10:00 am | News | Comments

Silicon-based electronics have physical limits that slow and may eventually halt the miniaturization of electronic devices. One of the possible solutions is to use molecules as circuits, but their poor conduction capabilities make them unlikely candidates. Researchers in Italy says, however, that the Kondo effect, in which molecules behave like magnetic impurities, could offer a solution.

Better protein capture a boon for drug manufacturers

January 23, 2014 8:00 am | Videos | Comments

Rice Univ. scientists have created a way to fine tune a process critical to the pharmaceutical industry that could save a lot of time and money. A combination of the Rice technique that provides pinpoint locations for single proteins and a theory that describes those proteins’ interactions with other molecules could widen a bottleneck in the manufacture of drugs by making the process of isolating proteins five times more efficient.  

Understanding perovskite-based solar cells

January 22, 2014 9:18 am | News | Comments

In only a few years, the efficiency of perovskite-based solar cells has increased from 3% to more than 16%. However, a detailed explanation of the mechanisms of operation within this photovoltaic system is still lacking. in recent work, scientists have now uncovered the mechanism by which these novel light-absorbing semiconductors transfer electrons along their surface.

Engineer converts yeast cells into “sweet crude” biofuel

January 22, 2014 9:13 am | News | Comments

Researchers at The Univ. of Texas at Austin’s Cockrell School of Engineering have developed a new source of renewable energy, a biofuel, from genetically engineered yeast cells and ordinary table sugar. This yeast produces oils and fats, known as lipids, that can be used in place of petroleum-derived products.

Seashells inspire new way to preserve bones for archeologists, paleontologists

January 22, 2014 9:04 am | News | Comments

Recreating the story of humanity’s past by studying ancient bones can hit a snag when they deteriorate, but scientists are now reporting an advance inspired by seashells that can better preserve valuable remains. Their findings, which appear in Langmuir, could have wide-ranging implications for both archeology and paleontology.

New test targets salmonella

January 22, 2014 8:36 am | News | Comments

An array of tiny diving boards can perform the Olympian feat of identifying many strains of salmonella at once. The novel biosensor developed by scientists at Rice Univ. in collaboration with colleagues in Thailand and Ireland may make the detection of pathogens much faster and easier for food-manufacturing plants.

Turkeys inspire smartphone-capable early warning system for toxins

January 21, 2014 11:46 am | by Sarah Yang, UC Berkeley | News | Comments

Some may think of turkeys as good for just lunch meat and holiday meals, but bioengineers at the Univ. of California (UC), Berkeley saw inspiration in the big birds for a new type of biosensor that changes color when exposed to chemical vapors. This feature makes the sensors valuable detectors of toxins or airborne pathogens.

Researcher develops energy-dense sugar battery

January 21, 2014 11:34 am | News | Comments

A Virginia Tech research team has developed a battery that runs on sugar, using a non-natural synthetic enzymatic pathway that strip all charge potentials from the sugar. While other sugar batteries have been developed, this one has an energy density an order of magnitude higher than others, allowing it to run longer before needing to be refueled.

Clever chemistry and a new class of antibiotics

January 17, 2014 12:51 pm | by Kevin Stacey, Brown Univ. | News | Comments

As concerns about bacterial resistance to antibiotics grow, researchers are racing to find new kinds of drugs to replace ones that are no longer effective. One promising new class of molecules called acyldepsipeptides, ADEPs, kills bacteria in a way that no marketed antibacterial drug does. Now, researchers have shown that giving the ADEPs more backbone can dramatically increase their biological potency.

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