Nature News Special – South American Science

With the World Cup in full swing in Brazil, it’s perfect timing for Nature News, who have shone a spotlight on science in South America.

South America isn’t known for it’s high scientific output, with Brazil being the only country which dedicates significant funding to its research and general levels of publications and citations being low compared with the rest of the world.

Nature News investigate this through several special issue articles which delve into South America’s scientific highs and lows, and what may be done to improve things.

It’s by no means doom and gloom though – many countries in South America are thriving at the moment, and one article describes new initiatives which are being brought in place by such countries to encourage researchers back home after spending time abroad during economic difficulties. It’s encouraging to see countries which aren’t known for their scientific prowess putting some real funding and encouragement into research and building up a strong scientific base.

The feature makes for really interesting reading, and it will be intriguing to see how science in South America grows and develops during the near future.


A nice little article explaining the basic science behind the prevalence of red clothing in Mexico – carminic acid, found in the Cochineal insect. With it’s high price as a red dye, an efficient total synthesis would be useful!

Under A Mexican Sky

When the Spanish arrived in Mexico, they were shocked to see the locals wearing red clothing in their everyday life. Red was the colour of royalty in Europe, and so not only forbidden to wear, but also very very expensive to buy, and here were all these locals, parading around in red everyday clothes!
Like many dyes used in Teotitlán, the colour red is sourced traditionally, using the female cochineal beetle, a parasite that lives on the nopal cactus plant, indigenous to Mexico. After feasting on the nopal juice, the insect produces carminic acid to deter predators, and it is this acid which is used for red dye.

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Cochineal – Red Coloured Gold


New Technique Allows Nanotubes to Become Visible Under Microscope


Carbon nanotubes have stimulated a massive amount of research and interest since their discovery, particularly because of their excellent thermal conductivity and mechanical and electrical properties. These properties do depend on the structure of the nanotube, however, and so they must be thoroughly analysed in order for their applications to be investigated.

Anyone who has worked in this field at any point will know that the usual methods of analysis involve electron microscopy techniques, such as Scanning Electron Microscopy (SEM) and Transmission Electron Microscopy (TEM) techniques. These are very expensive, time-consuming and require training for their operation.

This paper, in the Journal of the American Chemical Society, describes work by a research group in the United States, describes a new technique which makes carbon nanotubes visible under regular optical microscopes. The team have utilised the ability of carbon nanotubes  to enhance the vapour phase etching of silica surfaces by HF – allowing trenches to be formed which show precisely where the nanotubes are located.

This new method doesn’t use any labels or markers, meaning that the nanotubes aren’t contaminated or altered in any way. As a proof of concept, Raman spectroscopy was carried out on the nanotubes in order to characterise them and monitor an oxidation reaction with Ozone.

Although this report is quite a preliminary study, the ability to study and monitor carbon nanotubes using such a cheap and quick method could have massive impact on this area, and pave the way for a real boost in this research.


Exciting Trial Results for Skin Cancer Drugs

According to this article on the BBC News website, two new anti-cancer drugs have proven to be effective in the battle against advanced melanoma – a type of skin cancer which has so far been very difficult to treat.

The drugs, pembrolizumab and nivolumab, work by blocking the pathways used by cancer cells to hide from the immune system, allowing the body to fight back.

Advanced melanoma is a devastating disease which normally gives the patient less than 6 months to live. However, treatment with these drugs allowed the majority of patients to live for more than a year, which is already a vast improvement.

The trials are still very early, so it’s important not to get too carried away with excitement about these results, but if they continue to get the results they’ve been getting so far this could mark a huge leap forward in the treatment of this and other cancers.