. Scientific Frontline: Chemistry
Showing posts with label Chemistry. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Chemistry. Show all posts

Thursday, September 28, 2023

Ultrasound may rid groundwater of toxic ‘forever chemicals’

PFAS is notoriously difficult to clean from the environment, but ultrasound may offer a more effective solution compared to past efforts.
Photo Credit: Edward Jenner

New research suggests that ultrasound may have potential in treating a group of harmful chemicals known as PFAS to eliminate them from contaminated groundwater.

Invented nearly a century ago, per- and poly-fluoroalkyl substances, also known as “forever chemicals,” were once widely used to create products such as cookware, waterproof clothing and personal care items. Today, scientists understand that exposure to PFAS can cause a number of human health issues such as birth defects and cancer. But because the bonds inside these chemicals don’t break down easily, they’re notoriously difficult to remove from the environment.

Such difficulties have led researchers at The Ohio State University to study how ultrasonic degradation, a process that uses sound to degrade substances by cleaving apart the molecules that make them up, might work against different types and concentrations of these chemicals.

By conducting experiments on lab-made mixtures containing three differently sized compounds of fluorotelomer sulfonates – PFAS compounds typically found in firefighting foams – their results showed that over a period of three hours, the smaller compounds degraded much faster than the larger ones. This is in contrast to many other PFAS treatment methods in which smaller PFAS are actually more challenging to treat.

Topological Insulator Catalysts for High-Yield Room-Temperature Synthesis of Organoureas

The unique quantum properties of bismuth selenide make it a promising catalyst for the synthesis of organic ureas, as demonstrated by scientists at Tokyo Tech. Thanks to its topological surface states, the proposed catalyst exhibits remarkably high catalytic activity and durability when used for the synthesis of various urea derivatives, which are widely utilized as nitrogen fertilizers.

Synthetic fertilizers, one the most important developments in modern agriculture, have enabled many countries to secure a stable food supply. Among them, organic ureas (or organoureas) have become prominent sources of nitrogen for crops. Since these compounds do not dissolve immediately in water, but instead are slowly decomposed by soil microorganisms, they provide a stable and controlled supply of nitrogen, which is crucial for plant growth and function.

However, traditional methods to synthesize organoureas are environmentally harmful due to their use of toxic substances, such as phosgene. Although alternative synthesis strategies have been demonstrated, these either rely on expensive and scarce noble metals or employ catalysts that cannot be reused easily.

Wednesday, September 27, 2023

Could RNA folding play a role in the origin of life?

New research in membaneless compartments that model protocells reveals that naturally occurring chemical modifications to RNA molecules help them fold better into functional structures. Image of the structures of tRNA molecules from protocells determined by high-throughput sequencing using tRNA structure-seq are overlaid on and image of the membraneless compartments made through liquid-liquid phase separation.
(CC BY-NC-ND 4.0)
Image Credit: Bevilacqua and Keating Labs / Penn State.

New research in model protocells reveals naturally occurring chemical modifications to RNA molecules help them properly fold into functional structures

To investigate potential early steps taken by the first life to develop on Earth, researchers have been studying a model of pre-life protocells comprising membraneless compartments. Now, a team of Penn State scientists have found that RNA molecules within these compartments fold better when they have naturally occurring chemical modifications. These modifications that allow for better folding in RNAs may offer a hint into how the molecules evolved from arbitrary chemical compounds to the dynamic, organized building blocks of life. The new study, published by a team of Penn State scientists in the journal Science Advances, used high-throughput genetic sequencing to determine the structure of the RNAs, which also has implications for the design of delivery methods for RNA-based therapeutics that rely on properly folded RNAs to function.

Monday, June 19, 2023

Clean, sustainable fuels made ‘from thin air’ and plastic waste

Carbon capture from air and its photoelectrochemical conversion into fuel with simultaneous waste plastic conversion into chemicals. 
Photo Credit: Ariffin Mohamad Annuar

Researchers have demonstrated how carbon dioxide can be captured from industrial processes – or even directly from the air – and transformed into clean, sustainable fuels using just the energy from the sun.

The researchers from the University of Cambridge developed a solar-powered reactor that converts captured CO2 and plastic waste into sustainable fuels and other valuable chemical products. In tests, CO2 was converted into syngas, a key building block for sustainable liquid fuels, and plastic bottles were converted into glycolic acid, which is widely used in the cosmetics industry.

Unlike earlier tests of their solar fuels technology however, the team took CO2 from real-world sources – such as industrial exhaust or the air itself. The researchers were able to capture and concentrate the CO2 and convert it into sustainable fuel.

Although improvements are needed before this technology can be used at an industrial scale, the results, reported in the journal Joule, represent another important step toward the production of clean fuels to power the economy, without the need for environmentally destructive oil and gas extraction.

Saturday, June 17, 2023

Chemistry without detours: TUD researchers introduce a two-step process for producing phosphorus-containing chemicals

Example of a complex biomolecule from the group of functionalized nucleotides, achieved through the method developed by the Weigand Research Group using conventional phosphoric acid.
Image Credit: © Weigand Group

Professor Jan J. Weigand and his team from the TUD Dresden University of Technology have achieved a ground breaking advancement in the production of phosphorus-containing chemicals. In a recent publication in the renowned scientific journal Nature Synthesis, they present an innovative synthesis method that requires only two process steps for the previously complex production of functionalized phosphates. This promising innovation not only contributes to environmental protection but also saves significant time and costs. Furthermore, it offers the industry the opportunity to become less dependent on third countries. The research team has already filed two patents for this new process.

Phosphorus and its compounds are essential components of life and indispensable in our daily lives. In the human body, this element plays a crucial role in energy transfer and numerous cellular functions. Phosphorus compounds are used in fertilizers, detergents, medications, and many other products. Additionally, phosphorus is an essential ingredient in flame retardants, battery electrolytes, and catalysts. On Earth, phosphorus exists exclusively in the form of phosphates. The production of phosphorus-containing chemicals typically involves a complex and energy-intensive multi-step process. Initially, highly toxic white phosphorus (P4) is produced via a redox pathway and then further processed into phosphorus trichloride (PCl3) and other problematic and sometimes highly toxic intermediate products. Phosphorus chemistry based on P4 is associated with significant challenges but plays an indispensable role in the chemical industry due to its great importance.

Wednesday, June 14, 2023

UC Irvine scientists create long-lasting, cobalt-free, lithium-ion batteries

“We are basically the first group that started thinking about the supply chain, or the pain point, that nickel will bring to the EV industry in a matter of, I would say, three to five years,” says Huolin Xin, UCI professor of physics & astronomy, lead author of a paper in Nature Energy on a new way to use nickel in lithium-ion batteries.
Photo Credit: Steve Zylius / UCI

In a discovery that could reduce or even eliminate the use of cobalt – which is often mined using child labor – in the batteries that power electric cars and other products, scientists at the University of California, Irvine have developed a long-lasting alternative made with nickel.

“Nickel doesn’t have child labor issues,” said Huolin Xin, the UCI professor of physics & astronomy whose team devised the method, which could usher in a new, less controversial generation of lithium-ion batteries. Until now, nickel wasn’t a practical substitute because large amounts of it were required to create lithium batteries, he said. And the metal’s cost keeps climbing.

To become an economically viable alternative to cobalt, nickel-based batteries needed to use as little nickel as possible.

“We’re the first group to start going in a low-nickel direction,” said Xin, whose team published its findings in the journal Nature Energy. “In a previous study by my group, we came up with a novel solution to fully eliminate cobalt. But that formulation still relied on a lot of nickel.”

A Novel Technique to Observe Colloidal Particle Degradation in Real Time

Height images of nanoplastics degrading in real time, captured using high-speed atomic force microscopy. The left side shows a particle containing water, and the right side shows a water-free particle.
Image Credit: Daisuke Suzuki from Shinshu University

Researchers develop an innovative approach using atomic force microscopy to shed light on the degradation of colloidal particles

Degradation of colloidal particles is a common occurrence in nature, be it removal of waste products from cells or the natural degradation of polymers, such as plastics, in the environment. Nanoplastics are a major environmental concern, but little is known about how they are created from plastics over time. Researchers from Shinshu University have now developed a novel approach that utilizes high-speed atomic force microscopy to observe, in real time, the course of degradation of colloidal particles.

In the early 2000s, scientists from the UK made a worrisome discovery that the oceans are teeming with small particles of plastic (less than one millimeter in length) due to the continuous degradation of plastic waste. These microscopic particles of plastic have become a major environmental concern. Scientists classify these small particles as either microplastics or nanoplastics based on their size; the latter term is used exclusively for particles smaller than one micrometer.

New way of identifying proteins supports drug development

The illustration shows how different areas of PRC2 protein (the one on the right side) binds to survivin. The color pixel diagram shows binding strength to survivin. The bright pink pixels are the strongest binders.
Illustration Credit: Atsarina Larasati Anindya

All living cells contain proteins with different functions, depending on the type of cell. Researchers at the University of Gothenburg have discovered a way to identify proteins without even looking at their structure. Their method is faster, easier and more reliable than previous methods.

Currently, the general view is that each protein’s structure is what controls its function in cells. The atomic sequences, meaning how the atoms are arranged in the proteins, create the protein’s structure and shape. But there are many proteins that lack a well-defined structure.

Researcher Gergely Katona has developed a new method where proteins are scanned based on the number of amino acids (or the number of different atoms) they contain in order to identify them and their function instead of identifying them based on their structure. With this scanning method, the researchers were able to predict relatively reliably which combination of amino acids is needed to bind to the protein survivin. The outcome was a reliability of about 80 per cent, which is better than when you use the protein’s primary structures for identification. The results are now published in the scientific journal iScience.

Tuesday, June 13, 2023

Process turns harmful pollutants into harmless substances

Conceptual image
Illustration Credit: Evan Fields/UCR

As scientists look for ways to clean up “forever chemicals” in the environment, an increasing concern is a subgroup of these pollutants that contain one or more chlorine atoms in their chemical structure.

In a recent study published in the journal Nature Water, University of California, Riverside, environmental and chemical engineering Associate Professor Jinyong Liu and UCR graduate student Jinyu Gao describe newly discovered chemical reaction pathways that destroy chlorinated forever chemicals and render them into harmless compounds.

Known formally as PFAS or poly- and per-fluoroalkyl substances, forever chemicals have been used in thousands of products ranging from potato chip bags, stain and water repellents used on fabrics, cleaning products, non-stick cookware, and fire-suppressing foams. They are so named because they persist in the environment for decades or longer due to their strong fluorine-to-carbon chemical bonds.

Chlorinated PFAS are a large group in the forever chemical family of thousands of compounds. They include a variety of non-flammable hydraulic fluids used in industry and compounds used to make chemically stable films that serve as moisture barriers in various industrial, packaging, and electronic applications.

Monday, June 12, 2023

A Baking Soda Solution for Clean Hydrogen Storage

A research team at PNNL has proposed a safe pathway to store and release clean energy based on the chemistry of baking soda.   
Image Credit: Composite image by Shannon Colson | Pacific Northwest National Laboratory

In a world of continuously warmer temperatures, a growing consensus demands that energy sources have zero, or next-to-zero, carbon emissions. That means growing beyond coal, oil, and natural gas by getting more energy from renewable sources.

One of the most promising renewable energy carriers is clean hydrogen, which is produced without fossil fuels.

It’s a promising idea because the most abundant element in the universe is hydrogen, found in 75 percent of all matter. Moreover, a hydrogen molecule has two paired atoms—Gemini twins that are both non-toxic and highly combustible.

Hydrogen’s combustive potential makes it an attractive subject for energy researchers around the world.

At Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL), a team is investigating hydrogen as a medium for storing and releasing energy, largely by cracking its chemical bonds. Much of their work is linked to the Hydrogen Materials-Advanced Research consortium (HyMARC) at the Department of Energy (DOE).

Wednesday, May 17, 2023

Researchers develop new method to synthesize cannabis plant compound

Photo Credit: Matthew Brodeur

A group of researchers at Leipzig University has developed a new method for synthesizing cis-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) – a natural substance found in the cannabis plant that produces the characteristic psychoactive effect and has many potential applications, including in the pharmaceutical industry. “Our strategy makes it possible to produce cis-tetrahydrocannabinoids and test them for their biological activity,” explains researcher Caroline Dorsch, who, together with Professor Christoph Schneider from the Institute of Organic Chemistry, has published her findings in the journal Angewandte Chemie.

She points out that until now there has been no way of synthesizing this structural class in a consistent way. With their simple, inexpensive and nature-based synthesis, the Leipzig researchers have for the first time made the substance class of cis-tetrahydrocannabinoids accessible for a broad range of applications. The researcher notes that because previous methods required many steps and large amounts of chemicals and solvents, their approach is clearly superior. The substance can be synthesized with high overall yields and excellent optical purities using the new method.  

Tuesday, May 16, 2023

Scientists use X-ray beams to determine role of zinc in development of ovarian follicles

Elemental map of zinc measured by synchrotron-based X-ray fluorescence microscopy demonstrates the increase in total zinc content, and the differential distribution of zinc in ovarian follicles during primordial-through-secondary-stage development. The color scale bar represents the minimum and maximum zinc contents (µg/cm2). Scale bar=10 μm.
Image Credit: NIH/Yu-Ying Chen

To make a baby, first you need an egg. To have an egg, there needs to be a follicle. And in the very beginning of follicle development, there needs to be zinc.

The last of those statements represents the new findings reported recently by a team of researchers from Michigan State University, Northwestern University and the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) Argonne National Laboratory. The research builds upon earlier work looking at the role of zinc in fertilization and uncovers the importance of the metal earlier in the process of ovulation.

The results were reported in a paper in the Journal of Biological Chemistry that looked at the role of zinc in follicle development. The researchers, led by Teresa Woodruff and Tom O’Halloran of Michigan State University, used the Bionanoprobe at Argonne’s Advanced Photon Source (APS) to examine zinc and other trace elements in the egg cell itself as well as surrounding somatic cells.

Monday, May 15, 2023

Chemists Unravel Reaction Mechanism for Clean Energy Catalyst

Dmitry Polyansky (left) and David Grills in the pulse radiolysis lab where the research was conducted. Here, Grills programs a syringe pump that delivers the catalyst to the radiolysis cell. Polyansky adjusts the radiolysis cell inside a white insulated compartment.
Photo Credit: Brookhaven National Laboratory

Hydrogen, the simplest element on Earth, is a clean fuel that could revolutionize the energy industry. Accessing hydrogen, however, is not a simple or clean process at all. Pure hydrogen is extremely rare in nature, and practical methods to produce it currently rely on fossil fuels. But if scientists find the right chemical catalyst, one that can split the hydrogen and oxygen in water molecules apart, pure hydrogen could be produced from renewable energy sources such as solar power.

Now, scientists are one step closer to finding that catalyst. Chemists at the University of Kansas and the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) Brookhaven National Laboratory have unraveled the entire reaction mechanism for a key class of water-splitting catalysts. Their work was published today in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

“It’s very rare that you can get a complete understanding of a full catalytic cycle,” said Brookhaven chemist Dmitry Polyansky, a co-author of the paper. “These reactions go through many steps, some of which are very fast and cannot be easily observed.”

New priming method improves battery life, efficiency

Quan Nguyen (left), Sibani Lisa Biswal and collaborators developed a prelithiation technique that helps improve the performance of lithium-ion batteries with silicon anodes.
Photo Credit: Jeff Fitlow/Rice University

Silicon anode batteries have the potential to revolutionize energy storage capabilities, which is key to meeting climate goals and unlocking the full potential of electric vehicles.

However, the irreversible depletion of lithium ions in silicon anodes puts a major constraint on the development of next-generation lithium-ion batteries.

Scientists at Rice University’s George R. Brown School of Engineering have developed a readily scalable method to optimize prelithiation, a process that helps mitigate lithium loss and improves battery life cycles by coating silicon anodes with stabilized lithium metal particles (SLMPs).

The Rice lab of chemical and biomolecular engineer Sibani Lisa Biswal found that spray-coating the anodes with a mixture of the particles and a surfactant improves battery life by 22% to 44%. Battery cells with a greater amount of the coating initially achieved a higher stability and cycle life. However, there was a drawback: When cycled at full capacity, a larger amount of the particle coating led to more lithium trapping, causing the battery to fade more rapidly in subsequent cycles.

Cost-effective and Non-toxic Substance Helps in the Extraction of Noble Metals

The new technology will help extract valuable components from complex raw materials.
Photo Credit: Rodion Narudinov

Scientists of the Ural Federal University have found a "solvent" (surfactant), lignosulfonate, which facilitates the transfer of noble metals into solution. Lignosulfonate is a waste product of pulp and paper industry, which is cheap and non-toxic. The scientists have effectively solved two serious problems at once: using a waste product along with processing ores and concentrates. The researchers published a description of the solvent's mechanism of action in the scientific journal Langmuir.

"We investigated the mechanism of action of a very complex surfactant that is at the same time a humectant, dispersant and stabilizer in terms of the surface of the ore concentrate. Lignosulfonate has been used in autoclave metal extraction technologies since the 1970s. However, its efficiency has not been sufficiently studied and the mechanism of action has not been subjectively investigated. Taking into account the fact that today different types of ores are processed, the use of lignosulfonate for processing becomes even more important," says Tatyana Lugovitskaya, co-author of the research, Assistant Professor Researcher of the UrFU Department of Non-Ferrous Metallurgy.

Thursday, May 11, 2023

NUS scientists develop a novel light-field sensor for 3D scene construction with unprecedented angular resolution

Prof Liu Xiaogang (right) and Dr Yi Luying from the NUS Department of Chemistry capturing a 3D image of a model using the light-field sensor.
Photo Credit: Courtesy of National University of Singapore

Color-encoding technique for light-field imaging has potential applications in fields such as autonomous driving, virtual reality and biological imaging

A research team from the National University of Singapore (NUS) Faculty of Science, led by Professor Liu Xiaogang from the Department of Chemistry, has developed a 3D imaging sensor that has an extremely high angular resolution, which is the capacity of an optical instrument to distinguish points of an object separated by a small angular distance, of 0.0018o. This innovative sensor operates on a unique angle-to-color conversion principle, allowing it to detect 3D light fields across the X-ray to visible light spectrum.  

A light field encompasses the combined intensity and direction of light rays, which the human eyes can process to precisely detect the spatial relationship between objects. Traditional light sensing technologies, however, are less effective. Most cameras, for instance, can only produce two-dimensional images, which is adequate for regular photography but insufficient for more advanced applications, including virtual reality, self-driving cars, and biological imaging. These applications require precise 3D scene construction of a particular space.

Wednesday, May 10, 2023

Delivery of antioxidants to liver mitochondria

Damage to the liver induced by acetaminophen (dotted blue outlines) is almost completely mitigated by CoQ10-MITO-Porter (right), compared to the effect of phosphate buffered saline (left) and direct administration of CoQ10(center).
Image Credit: Mitsue Hibino, et al. Scientific Reports. May 10, 2023

A new drug delivery system delivers an antioxidant directly to mitochondria in the liver, mitigating the effects of oxidative stress.

Mitochondria are microscopic organelles found within cells, and are well-known as the “powerhouse of the cell.” They are by far the largest producer of the molecule adenosine triphosphate (ATP), which provides energy to many processes in living cells. The process by which mitochondria synthesize ATP generates a large amount of reactive oxygen species (ROS), chemical groups that are highly reactive. 

In a healthy cell, the ROS is controlled by the mitochondria; however, when this balance is lost, the excess ROS damages the mitochondria and subsequently cells and tissues. This phenomenon, known as oxidative stress, can cause premature aging and disease. The ROS that causes oxidative stress can be controlled by antioxidants.

A research team led by Professor Yuma Yamada, Distinguished Professor Hideyoshi Harashima and Assistant Professor Mitsue Hibino at Hokkaido University have developed a system to deliver antioxidants to mitochondria to mitigate the effects of excess ROS. Their findings were published in Scientific Reports.

Monday, May 8, 2023

Efficient synthesis of indole derivatives, an important component of most drugs, allows the development of new drug candidates

Efficient synthesis of indole derivatives, an important component of most drugs,  allows the development of new drug candidates. 
Illustration Credit: Reiko Matsushita

A research group at Nagoya University in Japan has successfully developed an ultrafast and simple synthetic method for producing indole derivatives. Their findings are expected to make drug production more efficient and increase the range of potential indole-based pharmaceuticals to treat a variety of diseases. Their findings were published in Communications Chemistry

An indole is an organic compound consisting of a benzene ring and a pyrrole ring. Heteroatom alkylation at the carbon atom next to the indole ring is particularly useful to create a wide range of new indole derivatives and many anti-inflammatory, anticancer, and antimicrobial treatments contain them.

In the past, this heteroatom alkylation has proven difficult because indoles easily and rapidly undergo unwanted dimerization/multimerization, processes in which two or more molecules combine during the reaction to form unwanted larger molecules. These unwanted by-products limit the yield of the desired product.  

Tuesday, May 2, 2023

How hallucinogenic substance in psilocybin mushrooms works on the molecular level

Once it was hot research. Then it was banned. Now, research on psychedelic substances is both hot and legal. There is a revival in psilocybin research in labs and clinics all over the world, including at SDU.
Photo Credit: Artur Kornakov

Psilocybin is a hallucinogenic compound found in about 200 mushroom species, including the liberty cap (Psilocybe semilanceata). For millennia, our ancestors have known and used this substance, and in recent years, it has received renewed interest from scientific researchers and therapists.

The substance has the potential to revolutionize the way we treat conditions such as severe depression and substance addiction, according to many. This is also the opinion of SDU researchers Himanshu Khandelia and Ali Asghar Hakami Zanjani from the Department of Physics, Chemistry and Pharmacy.

The two researchers have recently published the scientific paper The Molecular Basis of the Antidepressant Action of the Magic Mushroom extract, Psilocin. The article is the third in a series on the same topic from the two researchers (Interaction of psychedelic tryptamine derivatives with a lipid bilayer and Magic mushroom extracts in lipid membranes). The newest study's co-authors are Teresa Quynh Tram Nguyen and Luise Jacobsen. 

Thursday, April 27, 2023

Perovskite solar cells' instability must be addressed for global adoption

Photo Credit: Chelsea

Mass adoption of perovskite solar cells will never be commercially viable unless the technology overcomes several key challenges, according to researchers from the University of Surrey. 

Perovskite-based cells are widely believed to be the next evolution of solar energy and meet the growing demand for clean energy. However, they are not as stable as traditional solar-based cells.  

The Surrey team found that stabilizing the perovskite "photoactive phases" – the specific part of the material that is responsible for converting light energy into electrical energy – is the key step to extending the lifespan of perovskite solar cells.  

The stability of the photoactive phase is important because if it degrades or breaks down over time, the solar cell will not be able to generate electricity efficiently. Therefore, stabilizing the photoactive phase is a critical step in improving the longevity and effectiveness of perovskite solar cells. 

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