Chemistry

World record: Scientists from northern Germany produce the lightest material in the world
A network of porous carbon tubes that is three-dimensionally interwoven at nano and micro level - this is the lightest material in the world. It weights only 0.2 milligrams per cubic centimetre, and is therefore 75 times lighter than Styrofoam, but it is very strong nevertheless.

Metamolecules that switch handedness at light-speed
A multi-institutional team of researchers that included scientists with the U.S. Department of Energy's Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab) has created the first artificial molecules whose chirality can be rapidly switched from a right-handed to a left-handed orientation with a beam of light. This holds potentially important possibilities for the application of terahertz technologies across a wide range of fields, including reduced energy use for data-processing, homeland security and ultrahigh-speed communications.

New biofuel process dramatically improves energy recovery
A new biofuel production process created by Michigan State University researchers produces 20 times more energy than existing methods.

Researchers convert 'beer' into a better-than-ethanol biofuel
At Cornell, researchers are turning beer into biofuel. It's not the beer that's good to drink -- but fermentation broth, which is chemically identical to the imbibing beer, from which the fuel ethanol is produced.

Researchers find gold nanoparticles capable of 'unzipping' DNA
New research from North Carolina State University finds that gold nanoparticles with a slight positive charge work collectively to unravel DNA's double helix. This finding has ramifications for gene therapy research and the emerging field of DNA-based electronics.

Iron cuts at precious metal
Chemists don't like precious metals - at least not when they need the expensive materials as catalysts to accelerate reactions or guide them in a particular direction. And this is often the case, as in an important step in the production of polyethylene, a substance that makes plastic bags light, flexible and stable. However, a team of scientists from the Max Planck Institute for Chemical Physics of Solids in Dresden and the Fritz Haber Institute of the Max Planck Society in Berlin have now developed a catalyst using iron and aluminium that works just as well as the conventional palladium catalyst, but costs much less. To identify the iron-aluminium alternative, the scientists first systematically ascertained what properties the material would need. They plan to use this same procedure to search for catalysts for other reactions in future.

In nanotube growth, errors are not an option
At the right temperature, with the right catalyst, there's no reason a perfect single-walled carbon nanotube 50,000 times thinner than a human hair can't be grown a meter long.

UCSB scientists synthesize first genetically evolved semiconductor material
In the not-too-distant future, scientists may be able to use DNA to grow their own specialized materials, thanks to the concept of directed evolution. UC Santa Barbara scientists have, for the first time, used genetic engineering and molecular evolution to develop the enzymatic synthesis of a semiconductor.

Ancient effect harnessed to produce electricity from waste heat
A phenomenon first observed by an ancient Greek philosopher 2,300 years ago has become the basis for a new device designed to harvest the enormous amounts of energy wasted as heat each year to produce electricity. The first-of-its-kind "pyroelectric nanogenerator" is the topic of a report in ACS' journal Nano Letters.

New twist on old chemical process could boost energy efficiency
Chemical reactions on the surface of metal oxides, such as titanium dioxide and zinc oxide, are important for applications such as solar cells that convert the sun's energy to electricity. Now University of Washington scientists have found that a previously unappreciated aspect of those reactions could be key in developing more efficient energy systems.