+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.

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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.

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New Element Names Released

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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!

 

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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.

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New Ruthenium Catalyst Boosts Borane Fuel Cells

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Ammonia borane, H3NBH3, has been pegged as an ideal fuel cell material due to its very high hydrogen density (19.6 %). However, so far it has failed to perform as well as expected, as the release of hydrogen leads to the formation of borazine, which is resistant to further hydrogen release and can deactivate the catalyst used in this reaction. Therefore, very few systems have been developed which produce more than 2 equivalents of hydrogen from ammonia borane.

A team of scientists from the University of South Carolina may have solved this problem, using a novel ruthenium catalyst which not only catalyses the release of 2.7 equivalents of hydrogen, but which can dehydrogenate the borazine formed, eliminating it from the system. This has not been achieved for any of the high-performing catalysts reported to date. This catalyst is able to polymerise the borazine to polyborazylene, liberating hydrogen in the process.

This result is big news for the hydrogen fuel cell area, especially as this catalyst is air and moisture tolerant, is reusable and requires low catalytic loadings. The utilisation of ammonia borane as a hydrogen fuel source may finally become a reality through technologies like this.

This work was published in Dalton Transactions in March 2016, and can be found online here.

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CV of Failures

Today, I came across this blog post on the Nature Jobs website, which I think makes an excellent point. Being in research myself, I am more than aware of the number of failures scientists can go through in their career – not only failed experiments, but rejected papers, grant proposals, fellowship/PhD/job applications, the list goes on.

We’re constantly pressured to hide our failures and focus on the successes, even though they may make up a tiny fraction of our efforts. As Melanie Stefan, author of the blog post, writes: “At conferences, I talk about the one project that worked, not about the many that failed” – and this is the truth for the majority of researchers. Not only in presentations, but in journal articles, PhD theses and CVs, we embellish the few successes as much as physically possible, and sweep any failures under the carpet, regardless of how much work and time went into them.

Indeed, I a fellow PhD student in my year isn’t including any of the work he carried out in the first 2.5 years of his research, as it didn’t yield any results he feels are worth discussing. I think this is a terrible shame. Yes, his work wasn’t successful, but isn’t this a result in itself? Shouldn’t the scientific community know that his methodology isn’t fruitful, so that it may be worked upon and improved? Furthermore, shouldn’t his hard work be recognised and praised? Unfortunately, as scientists we’re conditioned to hide our failures and pray for a success we can cling onto.

This is where the idea of a “CV of Failures” comes in. Melanie hits the nail on the head when she says “As scientists, we construct a narrative of success that renders our setbacks invisible both to ourselves and to others. Often, other scientists’ careers seem to be a constant, streamlined series of triumphs. Therefore, whenever we experience an individual failure, we feel alone and dejected.”

It is so true. We go to conferences and assume that other students are sailing through their PhDs on a stream of non-stop successes, whilst we’re floundering in mixed, confusing results. New academics come into the department with what appear to be flawless careers histories of top-notch publications and seamless shifts into new positions. However, we should know that this isn’t the case. The success rates for fellowships and lectureships are extremely low, and it is highly unlikely that other researchers haven’t faced the same rejections that you yourself are currently experiencing. Unfortunately, we hide this, and feel we need to put out a sheen of non-stop success on our CVs.

Melanie suggests that we try to change this – by cataloging our rejections and struggles into a CV of failures. Not only will this give credit to the hours of effort and work which would be lost to our memories otherwise, but it can show other researchers that none of us are perfect. No one goes through their scientific career without a single failure, and maybe it’s about time we shared them with each other and inspired one another to shake off our rejections and keep heading towards success.

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Failure: why science is so successful

Today, Chemistry World have published the review of what appears to be a very interesting book that will no doubt interest all chemistry lovers – Failure: why science is so successful.

In his book, Stuart Firestein discusses that half of science is failed experiments and wrong hypotheses, and this is usually glossed over or forgotten completely.

We should not only accept the failures in our work, but appreciate and relish them – a negative result is still a result, and one which inevitably teaches us something and allows us to progress closer to the correct answer.

As a PhD student, I’ve encountered many a negative or unexpected result, and I agree that it would be a boost not only to researchers’ morale, but also the knowledge of our field, if failures were embraced and shared. How else can we learn from our mistakes and move on to bigger and better things?

We’re often told to ignore our failures, or even to hide them, and continue searching for the big break that’ll make our careers. However, this doesn’t help the field move forward, and it only serves to demoralise and demotivate students and Post-Docs whose hard work is being pushed aside and forgotten. I agree with Stuart that failure should be taken note of, and used in a positive way to benefit science and ourselves.

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