Helium Recycling Wins Guardian Sustainability Award

I was very proud to see that The Guardian awarded my own University of Nottingham with a University Award for in the sustainability category. The award was given for a project headed up by the Schools of Chemistry and Physics involving the creation of a helium recycling hub which is able to recover helium efficiently with a very high purity. The conservation of our limited helium resources is something I feel very passionately about myself, and it’s great to see my university putting resources into solving this global issue. The new plant works at a high efficiency, saving money and reducing the university’s reliance on outside helium sources. As our precious global helium stocks dwindle more effort needs to be put into projects such as these, so that vital technology such as MRI machines and, as we chemists know, NMR machines can continue to be used. So, congratulations to Nottingham, and let’s hope this sort of technology is adopted elsewhere!


Sensor Sketch!

This interesting article from the New Scientist website describes intriguing new research which allows a pencil sketch to be used as a sensor.

Yue Zhang from the University of Science and Technology Beijing have developed a sensor which measures how much a piece of paper is bent using a rectangle drawn with an ordinary graphite pencil.

The eventual aim is that the simple, cheap device could be used for wearable technology, and the researchers have already demonstrated that it can monitor the movement of limbs and determining pressure.

The device is very inexpensive and can be reused many times, and could be made into alarms that go off when a book or door is opened.

Such technology is certainly interesting, and the Zhang and co-workers are currently looking into what companies might be interested in taking this further. Cool stuff!


Developing world: The minority minority : Nature News & Comment


It’s International Women’s Day, and it only seems apt that we consider the difficulty faced by some women trying to reach success in the physical sciences. It’s widely known around the globe that we have a significant gender gap in academic science which widens as you move up the career ladder, and this article explores how severe this is in developing countries, where women in general often experience higher levels of prejudice than we are used to.  It makes for an interesting read and tells the story of three extraordinary women who have bucked the trend and are standing out at the top of their fields.


Spicing Up MOFs

This article on the Chemistry World website describes interesting new research into Metal Organic Frameworks (MOFs) made from bio-friendly curcumin – one of the ingredients of turmeric.

A MOF is a 3D framework constructed with metal centres joined together by an organic linker capable of binding to 2 or more metals, and their chemistry has really exploded in recent years, with them being peddled as solutions to a variety of the world’s main chemical problems, such as hydrogen storage and the capture of carbon dioxide. Indeed, we have a large MOF research group right here in Nottingham focusing on such applications. MOFs for these uses typically need to have high porosity and surface area, and measuring this is often an early indication of their performance.

However, many of the highest performing MOFs are constructed from expensive rare metals or petrochemical-derived ligands. This limits their eventual applications as, if they’re to compete industrially, they need to be cheap and sustainable. A team of researchers led by Guangshan Zhu from China may have overcome this in their construction of a MOF designed to deliver drugs.by using the naturally-occurring pigment curcumin, which has anti-cancer properties itself.

The group used biologically-friendly zinc as their metal centres, with curcumin ligating between them. The resulting framework was found to be highly porous, and initial studies have shown it is able to deliver ibuprofen into the body. What’s more, the MOF degrades under biological conditions to also deliver curcumin, which means both drugs can be delivered effectively using this framework.

This really is exciting news for both the MOF and science communities, as it could pave the way for a new method of drug delivery into the body which has real potential for the future.

You can find the original research article here on the Royal Society of Chemistry website.