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Rosetta’s final sprint to the comet

January 17, 2014 12:23 pm | by Birgit Krummheuer, Max Planck Institute | News | Comments

After a 10-year journey and a long, deep sleep the Rosetta space probe will be awoken on Jan. 20, 2014. The vehicle then starts the last leg of its journey which will lead it to the 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko comet. Then, mission leaders will attempt a space exploration first: setting the Philae lander down on the comet’s surface in November.

A catalyst with a million uses

January 17, 2014 12:20 pm | News | Comments

Solid catalysts based on precious metals, such as palladium, are widely used in industry to promote a range of chemical reactions. Finding ways to minimize the consumption of expensive catalytic materials, however, remains a critical challenge. Researchers in Japan have now developed a nanostructured catalyst that makes extremely efficient use of trace amounts of catalytic palladium.

Renewable chemical ready for biofuels scale-up

January 17, 2014 8:43 am | by Margaret Broeren, Univ. of Wisconsin-Madison | Videos | Comments

Using a plant-derived chemical, Univ. of Wisconsin-Madison researchers have developed a process for creating a concentrated stream of sugars that’s ripe with possibility for biofuels. The research team has published its findings in Science, explaining how they use gamma valerolactone, or GVL, to deconstruct plants and produce sugars that can be chemically or biologically upgraded into biofuels.

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Project aims to produce liquid transportation fuel from methane

January 16, 2014 8:13 am | News | Comments

How’s this for innovative: A Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory-led team hopes to engineer a new enzyme that efficiently converts methane to liquid transportation fuel. Methane is the main component of natural gas and biogas from wastewater treatments and landfills. Another source is stranded natural gas, which is currently flared or vented at remote oil fields, and which represents an enormous unused energy resource.

Hugging hemes help electrons hop

January 15, 2014 3:49 pm | News | Comments

Researchers simulating how certain bacteria run electrical current through tiny molecular wires have discovered a secret nature uses for electron travel. The results are key to understanding how the bacteria do chemistry in the ground, and will help researchers use them in microbial fuel cells, batteries or for turning waste into electricity.

Microscopic fountain pen to be used as a chemical sensor

January 15, 2014 12:39 pm | News | Comments

The atomic force microscope (AFM) uses a fine-tipped probe to scan surfaces at the atomic scale. But soon, thanks to efforts by scientists in The Netherlands, the AFM will soon be augmented with a new type chemical sensor, one that resembles a microscopic fountain pen. A hollow AFM cantilever acts as the pen, delivering droplets of mercury at the tip, which acts as a chemical sensor.

Chemical signaling simulates exercise in cartilage cells

January 15, 2014 10:48 am | News | Comments

Cartilage is notoriously difficult to repair or grow, but researchers at Duke Medicine have taken a step toward understanding how to regenerate the connective tissue. By adding a chemical to cartilage cells, the chemical signals spurred new cartilage growth, mimicking the effects of physical activity. The findings point to an ion channel called TRPV4 as a potential target for new therapies to treat osteoarthritis or even regrow cartilage.

Partnership works to covert natural gas to liquid fuel

January 15, 2014 8:17 am | News | Comments

In an effort to put to good use natural gas (methane) that might otherwise become pollution, Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory is collaborating with start-up company Calysta Energy on a new technology to convert natural gas to liquid fuel. The process involves taking natural gas from oil and gas operations, and converting it to methanol that can be used as a fuel or converted to other useful chemicals.

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Researchers harness sun’s energy during day for use at night

January 14, 2014 2:22 pm | News | Comments

Solar energy has long been used as a clean alternative to fossil fuels such as coal and oil, but it could only be harnessed during the day when the sun’s rays were strongest. Now researchers have built a system that converts the sun’s energy not into electricity but hydrogen fuel and stores it for later use, allowing us to power our devices long after the sun goes down.

Cobalt catalysts allow researchers to duplicate complicated steps of photosynthesis

January 13, 2014 4:19 pm | News | Comments

Humans have for ages taken cues from nature to build their own devices, but duplicating the steps in the complicated electronic dance of photosynthesis remains one of the biggest challenges and opportunities for chemists. Currently, the most efficient methods we have for making fuel from sunlight and water involve rare and expensive metal catalysts. However, that is about to change.

Breakthrough helps explain plasmonic secondary light emission

January 13, 2014 1:47 pm | by Rick Kubetz, Univ. of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign | News | Comments

Plasmonic nanostructures are of great current interest as chemical sensors or imaging agents because they can detect the emission of light at a different wavelength than the excitation light. Researchers have struggled with how to interpret this resonant secondary light emission. Recent work that models the emission as Raman scattering from electron-hole pairs, however, has shown a way to predict emission outcome.

Battery development may extend range of electric cars

January 10, 2014 7:59 am | News | Comments

It's known that electric vehicles could travel longer distances before needing to charge and more renewable energy could be saved for a rainy day if lithium-sulfur batteries can just overcome a few technical hurdles. Now, a novel design for a critical part of the battery has been shown to significantly extend the technology's lifespan, bringing it closer to commercial use.

The play-by-play of energy conversion

January 9, 2014 9:53 am | by Justin Eure, Brookhaven National Laboratory | News | Comments

Researchers at the U.S. Department of Energy’s Brookhaven National Laboratory report that, for the first time, a comprehensive set of tools is available for exploring correlations among the morphological, structural, electronic and chemical properties of catalytic materials under working conditions. Two recent studies have used microscopy and spectroscopy to catch custom-built catalysts in action.

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Quantum mechanics explains efficiency of photosynthesis

January 9, 2014 9:40 am | News | Comments

According to recent research that shows the first unambiguous theoretical evidence of quantum effects in photosynthesis, light-gathering macromolecules in plant cells transfer energy by taking advantage of molecular vibrations whose physical descriptions have no equivalents in classical physics.

A cheaper method of storing solar energy

January 8, 2014 9:45 am | News | Comments

By replacing platinum with molybdenum in photoelectrochemical cells, scientists from two Swiss labs have developed a cheaper and scalable technique that can greatly improve hydrogen production through water splitting as a means of storing solar energy.

Chemical imaging brings cancer tissue analysis into the digital age

January 8, 2014 9:33 am | News | Comments

A new method for analyzing biological samples' chemical makeup is set to transform the way medical scientists examine diseased tissue. When tests are carried out on a patient’s tissue today, such as to look for cancer, the test has to be interpreted by a histology specialist, and can take weeks to obtain a full result. Mass spectrometry imaging uses technologies that reveal how chemical components are distributed in a tissue sample.

In situ bandgap tuning of graphene oxide

January 7, 2014 10:07 am | News | Comments

A research group at Japan’s National Institute for Materials Science has developed a method for creating a bandgap in graphene oxide by changing the bonding state of carbon atoms that compose graphene through reversible absorption and desorption of oxygen atoms on the graphene. This allows in situ bandgap tuning, which could help develop high-performance nanoscale devices using graphene oxide membranes.

Simple technique may drive down biofuel production costs

January 7, 2014 8:21 am | News | Comments

Researchers have developed a simple, effective and relatively inexpensive technique for removing lignin from the plant material used to make biofuels, which may drive down the cost of biofuel production. Lignin, nature’s way of protecting plant cell walls, is difficult to break down or remove from biomass. However, that lignin needs to be extracted in order to reach the energy-rich cellulose that is used to make biofuels.

New compounds discovered that are hundreds of times more mutagenic

January 6, 2014 12:28 pm | News | Comments

Researchers at Oregon State Univ. have discovered novel compounds produced by certain types of chemical reactions, such as those found in grilling meat, that are hundreds of times more mutagenic than their parent compounds which are known carcinogens. These compounds were not previously known to exist, and raise additional concerns about the health impacts of heavily polluted urban air or dietary exposure.

Israel researcher: Elusive Biblical blue found

January 6, 2014 8:28 am | News | Comments

An Israeli researcher says she has identified a nearly 2,000-year old textile that may contain a mysterious blue dye described in the Bible, one of the few remnants of the ancient color ever found. Researchers and rabbis have long searched for the enigmatic color, called tekhelet in Hebrew, but thought it to be lost in antiquity.

Researchers find simple, cheap way to increase solar cell efficiency

January 6, 2014 7:42 am | News | Comments

Researchers from North Carolina State Univ. and the Chinese Academy of Sciences have found an easy way to modify the molecular structure of a polymer commonly used in solar cells. Their modification can increase solar cell efficiency by more than 30%. Polymer-based solar cells have two domains, consisting of an electron acceptor and an electron donor material.

El Nino tied to melting of Antarctica’s Pine Island Glacier

January 2, 2014 2:21 pm | News | Comments

Pine Island Glacier is one of the biggest routes for ice to flow from Antarctica into the sea. The floating ice shelf at the glacier’s tip has been melting and thinning for the past four decades, causing the glacier to speed up and discharge more ice. Understanding this ice shelf is a key for predicting sea-level rise in a warming world.

Chinese biologist seeks out productive biofuel sources

December 27, 2013 12:47 pm | News | Comments

In a recent achievement, Cui Qiu, a researcher with the Chinese Academy of Sciences' Qingdao Institute of Bioenergy and Bioprocess Technology, turned a few shy members of the Clostridium germ family into highly productive workers. Some chewed up wood fiber and churned out sugar, while others ate the sugar and made ethanol. These small creatures could bring huge changes to the world, Cui says.

Batteries as they are meant to be seen

December 27, 2013 10:12 am | News | Comments

Life science researchers regularly use transmission electron microscopy to study wet environments. Now, scientists at Pacific Northwest National Laboratory who are studying batteries have used the method to have applied it successfully to microscopically view electrodes while they are bathed in wet electrolytes, mimicking realistic conditions inside actual batteries.

Success in fabrication of 3-D single-element quasicrystal

December 26, 2013 12:06 pm | News | Comments

A research group based in Japan has succeeded for the first time in fabricating a 3-D structure of a quasicrystal composed of a single element. Discovered in 1984, quasicrystals have been found in more than 100 kinds of alloy, polymer and nanoparticle systems. However, a quasicrystal composed of a single element has not yet been found.

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