Arsenic – From Dangerous Drinking Water to New Buildings

This article on the New Scientist website describes some innovative new technology which aims to pull arsenic out of toxic drinking water and trap it in concrete for new buildings.

Arsenic is a poisonous element which can naturally find its way into groundwater, usually from rocks and minerals and in the form of arsenic acid and its derivatives. From there, it is able to build up over time, slowly poisoning the body. Several major incidents of such poisoning have occurred around the world, with poorer nations such as Bangladesh suffering particularly badly from this problem.

A team of from the University of California are currently trialling a system which uses rust to bind the arsenic from up to 600 litres of drinking water at a time. The resulting ‘rusty sludge’ will hopefully be safely incorporated into concrete for new buildings, keeping the arsenic out of the water table permanently.

The system would work beautifully for countries such as India, where new roads and buildings are being built very frequently, so the concrete could be put to use straight away.

It’s still early days for this project, but if the trials prove successful, this serious health issue could potentially be solved for people around the globe.


Tid Bit: Alan Turing Institute to Be Set Up in Britain



In yesterday’s budget, UK Chancellor George Osborne announced that an institute named after World War Two codebreaker Alan Turing will be set up in Britain, which will focus on new ways of collecting, organising and analysing large sets of data.

The facility will cost the government £42m over five years, and is part of a new £222m science package.

Alan Turing lived in Mr Osborne’s own constituency of Tatton, Cheshire, and was a brilliant mathematician whose work greatly helped Allied forces read German messages enciphered with the Enigma machine. His code-breaking efforts allowed the war to be ended sooner, saving thousand of lives.

Unfortunately, Turing was persecuted for his sexuality and, after being convicted of gross indecency, was chemically castrated in 1952. Following years of campaigning, however, he was granted a posthumous Royal pardon in December last year. Now, finally, his great work can be given the recognition it deserves, with the government hoping that this institute will lead the way in the use of so-called ‘big data’.

The government’s science package will also provide £106m to new centres for doctoral training, £55m for the development of cell therapy manufacturing and £19m for a Graphene Open Access Innovation Centre.


Online Peer Review – Too Many Places to Post?

This article from the Nature News blog highlights how, in this age of online technology, there might be too many options for scientists to post their questions and comments on questionable research.

With a variety of forums, blogs and websites to choose from, it can be difficult for researchers to know where it’s best to put forward their questions about published work, and where they might have the most impact.

The article talks about a new website called ResearchGate, which allows scientists to publish open mini reviews about work in the literature, so that the appropriate amount of attention can be gathered and any necessary action be taken. Furthermore, you need to be affiliated with an organisation in order to post, so there is a high amount of credibility associated with the site.

A large amount of time and work must be dedicated to the creation of such reviews, meaning that they may not prove to be extremely common, but they could provide a more localised forum for such activities, rather than comments and questions being sporadically scattered around the web, leading to them being lost, forgotten or ignored.

Whether websites such as ResearchGate prove to be the answer is yet to be discovered, but they are a step in the right direction.


Conference Alert: Challenges in Organic Chemistry – 7-10th August


Anyone interested in organic chemistry will be interested in the Royal Society of Chemistrys latest International Symposium for Advancing the Chemical Sciences (ISACS) this August.

Taking place at the Shanghai Institute of of Organic Chemistry, this looks to be an impressive conference, with speakers from around the globe taking part. It will involve extensive poster sessions, allowing for plenty of networking with chemists from around the world, and a variety of talks with lots of time for questions will allow for the sharing of ideas and advice, and will possibly spark a few collaborations.

The conference covers the whole spectrum of organic chemistry, with the themes being listed as:

  • Organic and metal-based catalysis
  • Total synthesis
  • New synthetic methodologies
  • Physical organic chemistry and
  • Bioorganic and medicinal chemistry

The full programme of speakers is yet to be published, but many have already been confirmed. They’ll be coming from universities across the globe, which include Cambridge, Caltech, Princeton, Kyoto, Zurich and more – meaning this is truly an international affair, which will hopefully lead to lots of new insights and ideas. You can see the list of confirmed speakers here.

.Registration for the conference is open now, and includes attendance to all parts of the event, including refreshments. There are reduced fees for students, and the RSC does offer bursaries for students and early-career researchers in order to help pay for events such as these. You can find details about this here.

If you’re a budding organic chemist who wants to attend a conference with a great deal of potential for learning about interesting chemistry and meeting lots of other researchers from around the globe, I suggest you take a look!


Unusual Materials May Solve Our Energy Crisis

As all scientists and the majority of the public are very aware of, countries around the globe are wanting to increase their use of renewable energy sources, in order to lower our dependence on finite fossil fuels. The problem with several of these sources, however, is that they aren’t available all of the time. The wind doesn’t always blow enough and the sun isn’t always shining, so efficient storage of this energy is needed so that it can be used during these times.

Traditional lithium batteries just aren’t flexible enough for this sort of application, and this article from New Scientist describes how one company is trying to use ice to solve the problem. Excess energy from wind turbines is used to cool water in a slush, which holds onto its energy until it melts, powering a turbine as it does so. It’s a neat idea, and could allow 80% of the excess energy to be reused, making wind power much more viable as a permanent source of energy.

The article goes onto describe two more materials which could solve the energy storage dilemma – a solution of iron ions which stores energy through excess electrons, and a molten glass which is able to be pumped to wear it is needed, and lets off heat as it cools.

Many companies and research organisations are devoted a great deal of effort into energy storage, which highlights what a real issue this is for the entire globe, and how technology needs to keep up with our ever-increasing need to switch to renewable fuels. Perhaps one of these new devices will be the answer!


Using Old Methods for New Tricks: Pulling Polymers with Atomic Force Microscopy

This is an interesting article from the great Ionic Blog, showing how Atomic Force Microscopy has been used to move around single strands of polymers in order to figure out the binding energies of each monomeric unit. It’s very neat science, and presents a new approach to polymer study which hasn’t been tried out before.

The Ionic Blog

Atomic force microscopy (AFM) is common analysis technique used to obtain high resolution 3D images of surface features on tiny samples. Although there are a variety of modes, all AFM systems involve a a near-atomically sized tip attached to a thin cantilever close to the surface. The tip either maintains constant contact (or non-contact) or intermittently taps the entire sample area to give a good representation of the surface topography. AFM is great for measuring nanoscale surface topography, surface feature heights and sizes, thin-film thickness, surface roughness, and (more applicable here) bond strength.

Here are a few sample surface images determined from AFM (wrangled from Google):


Image heights of nanoparticle sample

Screen Shot 2014-03-04 at 8.51.23 PM

Very high-quality image of CaF2 using an advanced Asylum AFM

According to an article published today over at ScienceDaily, researchers at the University of Basel aren’t using AFM to raster-scan surfaces for high-res images. Instead, they’re using the AFM…

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