2016 Nobel Prize announced 

This handy infographic from Compound Interest details the fascinating work on molecular machines by Stoddart,  Sauvage and Feringa which has won them this year’s Nobel Prize for chemistry. 

I was fortunate enough to attend a talk by Sir Fraser Stoddart a couple of years ago,  and he is a terrific speaker who has carried out some really good work over the last few decades.  Molecular machines are an exciting and interesting research topic, which I have enjoyed learning about throughout my undergraduate and postgraduate studies, and I would definitely recommend taking a closer look at the research which earned them the prize. 


+10 Oxidation State May Exist

For years, we as chemists have all been taught that elements can only exist in the -4 to +8 oxidation state. In 2010, we were excited to hear predictions that the +9 oxidation may exist in [IrO4]+ – a fact which was later confirmed in 2014.

Now, a group of chemists at the University of Minnesota have used Density Functional Theory (DFT) to predict that the +10 oxidation state is possible in the compound [PtO4]2+. The compound is kinetically stable, with a lifetime of almost a year.

This is an exciting prediction which could change platinum chemistry forever, if this or similar compounds may be accessed synthetically. [PtO4]2+ does have a similar electronic structure to [IrO4]+, and so it is hoped that it may be isolated in a similar fashion in the near future. New species which push the limits described to us in our textbooks are always intriguing, and hopefully we will see this compound being discovered soon.

The work is published in Angewandte Chemie.


UK Science Still Reeling After Brexit Vote

Well, it’s been over a week since the shocking result of the UK referendum, indicating that 52% of the British public want to leave the EU.

The news hit the UK scientific community like a ton of bricks, with Chemistry World describing the general feeling as “dismay and uncertainty”. Indeed, the result was generally not welcome in chemistry departments around the UK, which often receive a significant amount of funding from EU sources. However, the concerns span more than just funding. Dominic Tildesley, president of the Royal Society of Chemistry stated that there is now “considerable uncertainty about how an EU exit will affect access to EU funding for research, the freedom of researchers to work across the EU and the application of EU regulations across the science and technology sector.” – highlighting the various ways that the ‘Brexit’ may impact our sector.

Universities across the country have scrambled to reassure staff and students alike that their situation will not change in the near future. After all, the UK is still a member of the EU at this current time. The Russell Group of research intensive universities has also said it would be seeking assurances from the government that staff and students from Europe would be able to continue working and studying in the UK after it leaves the EU. This is a concern for many people, whose future hangs in the balance as negotiations with the EU begin. It would be a terrible shame if the extremely bright workforce we currently import from the EU is lost. I myself have worked with terrific students and post-docs from the continent, who may not have chosen to come here had the ease of movement between EU nations not been possible. Furthermore, many EU citizens are feeling less welcome in the UK, following a spate of xenophobic incidents both before and after the referendum results.

Many researchers are focusing their immediate concerns on keeping the UK in the Horizon 2020 programme – the EU’s €74.8-billion (US$82.9-billion) programme of research grants. Indeed, John Womersley, chief executive of the UK Science and Technology Facilities Council, says this should be the community’s top — and only — objective. Switzerland has been removed from the programme following its restrictions on the free movement of people between itself and the EU, so the UK must tread carefully to ensure this does not happen to us as well. However, this will prove extremely difficult, as immigration was used as a key factor in the Vote Leave campaign.

All in all, it’s quite a worrying time to be involved in science in the UK. The referendum result was a shock to a group of people who, as far as we all could tell, were overwhelmingly in support of remaining in the EU. All we can do is push the government to make the protection science funding and the UK’s reputation as a centre for excellent scientific research a priority, and wait with bated breath.


New Element Names Released


Exciting news in the area of new elements – the names of the four latest elements have been proposed.

The existence of elements 113, 115, 117 and 118 were confirmed earlier this year by Russian and Japanese scientists, and IUPAC have announced their suggested names earlier this week.

Element 113, discovered by Kosuke Morita’s research group at RIKEN in Japan, will be named Nihonium, chemical symbol Nh. The element is named after Japan itself, from the Japanese word Nihon, and will be the first East Asian name to appear on the periodic table.

Elements 115 and 117 are both geographically named, being Moscovium (Mc) and Tennessine (Ts) respectively. Moscovium takes its name from the location of the Joint Institute of Nuclear Research (JINR), Moscow, and Tennessine is inspired from the area of the US where a great deal of superheavy element research is conducted, Tennessee. These names celebrate the collaboration between Russia and the US on the discovery of these elements.

The same group affectionately named element 118, Oganesson (Og), after Russian nuclear physicist Yuri Oganessian. Oganessian works at the JINR, and has had a hand in the discovery of numerous superheavy elements, including element 117. This move may prove controversial, as it’s only the second time an element has been named after a living scientist. When Seaborgium was named after Glenn Seaborg in 1993, IUPAC initially rejected the name.

Personally, I think these are very apt names for these new elements, which are not only easy to pronounce but make perfect sense. IUPAC will now put the names up for public scrutiny for a period of 5 months, so time will tell if they’ll stick. I certainly hope so!



Bayer bids to take over Monsanto

Today, chemical giant Bayer put in a $62bn (£43bn) bid to take over agrochemical company Monsanto, a move which would see the formation of the world’s biggest agricultural supplier.

This would be the biggest ever takeover bid made by a German company, as the country tends towards lower risk expansions, and the offer has caused controversy among Bayer investors. Concerns have arisen because this would mean Bayer’s main interest would be in the agricultural sector, with many investors joining the company because of their pharmaceutical products.

Monsanto itself tried to take over rival company Syngenta last year, but had their offer rejected, and announced plans to cut 3,600 jobs in the aftermath. It’s unclear at the moment how this new merger will affect staff at the company, but many will be hoping the job cuts will be cancelled as Bayer take over.

Whatever the outcome, this and the upcoming merger of Syngenta and ChemChina which is yet to go through, will no doubt have a huge impact on the agrochemical industry in the upcoming years. With big pharma taking a tumble and small and SMEs coming into their own in recent years, the formation of huge chemical companies may prove a risky move. Time will tell.


How will the Queen’s speech affect chemistry in the UK?

Today in the UK parliament officially reopened, with the Queen’s speech being used to set out the government’s new plans. But, with the flurry of new bill and law changes, how will this affect the chemical sciences here?

Luckily, the Royal Society of Chemistry have explained it all for us here. I’ll combine their useful insight with some of my own personal opinions.

There will be a big effort made into the deregulation of higher education in the UK, which may help reduce the red tape involved in the sector, but removing caps of student numbers and giving universities more flexibility is risky business, and may affect the credibility and efficiency of chemistry degrees. I’m sure many of you have heard of the new Teaching Excellence Framework, which sounds good on paper, but anyone familiar with the analogous Research Excellence Framework will know how time-consuming and, frankly, ineffective this can be, and I’m concerned more time will be dedicated to box-ticking exercises than providing good quality teaching.

Luckily, it seems like the government are listening to the concerns raised about the TEF, and will be piloting the scheme before enforcing it on all universities. A big concern among current and prospective students is that good TEF results will allow universities to continue raising tuition fees. This might be off-putting to potential chemistry undergraduates, and we might see numbers start to drop.

The good news is that it looks like research funding is going to be protected and still decided by peer review. This should mean that funding still reaches chemists who really deserve it.