American Chemical Society, ACS is a congressionally chartered independent membership organization which represents professionals at all degree levels and in all fields of chemistry and sciences that involve chemistry.Learn more about ACS
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WASHINGTON — A good art dealer can really clean up in today’s market, but not when some weird chemistry wreaks havoc on masterpieces. Art conservators started to notice microscopic pockmarks forming on the surfaces of treasured oil paintings that cause the images to look hazy. It turns out the marks are eruptions of paint caused, weirdly, by soap that forms via chemical reactions. Since you have no time to watch paint dry, we explain how paintings from Rembrandts to O’Keefes are threatened by their own compositions — and we don’t mean the imagery.
WASHINGTON—If you’re enjoying some tasty food today that has at least one ingredient that was farmed somewhere, you probably owe a little thanks to earthworms. How is it that these detritivores – literally dirt eaters – turn what humans find inedible into beloved compost? After the biology and physics of swallowing and “chewing”, like us it’s all chemistry for digestion. But earthworms have an extra enzyme that allows them to munch through cellulose, the ultimate fiber that makes tree bark a non-starter in human diets. Yet all this powerful chemistry means not everyone sees earthworms as the greatest creature to crawl.
WASHINGTON,—Bicycle Day on April 19 honors not the two-wheeled mode of transportation, but the colorful ride taken by Swiss chemist Albert Hoffman who accidentally discovered LSD 74 years ago. In search of new medicines, Hoffman was trying to stabilize lysergic acid, a derivative of a fungal compound used in a migraine medicine. He ended up synthesizing a compound called lysergic acid diethylamine, or LSD. Later, he accidentally exposed himself to it and felt dizzy with hallucinations. On April 19, 1943, he tested it on himself again and needed a lab assistant to help him home, via bicycle, leading to a memorable ride. While recreational drug abuse led to bans on psychedelics in the 1970s, new research indicates Hoffman was onto something in his search for medicines that led to LSD. The approach may now yield potential mental health treatments.
Smoking cigarettes can lead to illness and death. Free radicals, which are atoms or groups of atoms with unpaired electrons, in inhaled smoke are thought to be partly responsible for making smokers sick. Now researchers report in ACS’ journal Chemical Research in Toxicology a method for measuring free radicals in cigarette smoke that could help improve our understanding of the relationship between these substances and health.
Stashed away and long-forgotten, a trio of century-old bottled beers recently discovered in the Czech Republic could help scientists better understand early 20th-century brewing practices, as well as the chemical changes that occur in beer over long periods of time. A report on the well-preserved lagers appears in ACS’ Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry.
WASHINGTON — We have a lot of confidence that we measure temperature accurately. But how do thermometers in the kitchen or doctor’s office work? Thanks to the laws of thermodynamics, thermometers respond to heat moving from hot to cold as a means of measuring temperature. Clever physical chemists and engineers have taken temperature tools from the simple, but still useful, lined glass thermometers to digital readouts. And you might be surprised to find out how Einstein took thermometers the distance.
There’s a reason why farmers wear protective gear when applying organophosphate pesticides. The substances are nerve agents that are very effective at getting rid of unwanted bugs, but they can also make humans sick. Even more potent, related compounds—organophophate nerve agents—are deadly. Now researchers have created a “lab on a glove” sensor that could check for the presence of such substances with one swipe.
More than 2 million procedures every year take place around the world to heal bone fractures and defects from trauma or disease, making bone the second most commonly transplanted tissue after blood. To help improve the outcomes of these surgeries, scientists have developed a new grafting material from sea urchin spines. They report their degradable bone scaffold, which they tested in animals, in the journal ACS Applied Materials & Interfaces.
Public health officials are increasingly concerned over methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA). The bacteria have developed resistance to a number of treatments, even antibiotics of last resort in some cases. Now researchers report in ACS’ journal Bioconjugate Chemistry that a new class of compounds can treat MRSA skin infections in mice with no signs of acute toxicity, and no signs that the bacteria would develop resistance to them after many applications.
In small amounts, vanilla flavoring enhances the taste of our baked goods, desserts and ice cream. But making it synthetically, which is the most common route to keeping the ingredient affordable these days, creates a stream of wastewater that requires treatment before it can be released into surface waters. Now researchers report in ACS’ journal Industrial & Engineering Chemistry Research a new “greener” way to make vanillin, the primary flavor compound in vanilla.
Although consumers have been demanding more “natural” foods in recent years, less than 1 percent of vanilla flavor produced globally comes from its original natural source, the vanilla orchid. The rest is synthesized from a petroleum-derived precursor called guaiacol, tree lignin and other substances such as cow feces. But the catalysts currently used in the manufacturing of vanillin are polluting and can only be used one time. So Ganapati D. Yadav and Shivaji L. Bhanawase sought an improved method to make the popular flavor compound.
The researchers created a catalyst by encapsulating copper-aluminum hydrotalcite in silica. Testing showed that it efficiently spurred the separation of vanillin from other compounds. The catalyst worked in water under ambient air pressure, and eliminated the need for a polluting step involving hydrochloric acid that current techniques require. The catalyst could also be recovered and re-used. The researchers say that their process could be economically scaled up for a more environmentally friendly approach to making commercial vanillin.—More…
WASHINGTON— Pasta noodles contain only three ingredients: eggs, water and flour. But how can you achieve a tasty result every time? Cooking pasta chemically changes how the proteins and starches interact, making the noodles sticky and springy. Therefore, what you do — or don’t do — to the cooking water can change the edible result. This video serves up four food-chemistry informed pasta pro-tips so you can serve up delectable al dente pasta instead of an unappetizing ball of overcooked noodles. Watch the latest Reactions video here: https://youtu.be/gSOnxUBJs8A.
WASHINGTON—Why are so many supermarket tomatoes tasteless and rock hard? In the 1990s, breeders developed a tomato that produces less of the hormone ethylene, so they stay hardened for shipping and then ripen in store. That delayed ripening combined with other breeding moves have made tomatoes bigger, redder and great for shipping, but also less satisfying in salad. This video shows how scientists are learning how tomatoes mature so that soon you may see and taste totally terrific tomatoes at the supermarket. Watch the latest Speaking of Chemistry video here.
Humans have been looking for ways to cheat death for centuries. And while we’ve succeeded in extending our life span, many people suffer ill health in their later years. Now researchers have pivoted to study ways to improve our “health span” to allow us to enjoy our longevity. The cover story in Chemical & Engineering News (C&EN), the weekly newsmagazine of the American Chemical Society, explores whether this could finally unlock the secrets of youth.
Sarah Everts, a senior editor at C&EN, notes that at the crux of the search for longer life is the fundamental question: Why do we age at all? For most of human history, people died of violence, starvation and infectious diseases. Most researchers who study aging agree that our bodies were meant to be at their best long enough to reproduce — but that the traits which helped humans to stay alive long enough to procreate can pose problems decades later.
Any child who has played with a glowstick or captured a firefly understands the wonder of chemiluminescence, or chemical light. This process is already used to detect blood at crime scenes and to determine the concentrations of different components of biological samples. This week in ACS Central Science, researchers introduce a new chemiluminescent probe that is better for use in water and up to 3,000 times brighter than previous probes.
Chemiluminescent probes are among the most sensitive diagnostic tools for DNA sequencing, crime scene analysis and immunoassays. Most systems use a cocktail with one emitter molecule that detects the species of interest by giving off weak light, and another two additional ingredients — a fluorophore and a soap-like substance called a surfactant — that amplify the signal to detectable levels. However, energy is lost in the transfer process from one molecule to the other, and surfactants are not biocompatible. Doron Shabat and colleagues proposed that by tweaking the electronic structure of current probes to improve their inherent fluorescence, they could create a new single-component emission system that would work for many applications.
Food poisoning is a scourge. Yet preventing it is far from foolproof. But in a new study in Analytical Chemistry, scientists report that they are closing in on a way to use a combination of color-changing paper and electrochemical analysis — on plastic transparency sheets or simple paper — to quickly, cheaply and more accurately detect bacterial contamination of fruits and vegetables in the field before they reach grocery stores, restaurants and household pantries.
Of all the contaminants found in food and water, bacteria cause the most hospitalizations and deaths in the United States. Nearly half of these incidents are attributed to spinach, cabbage, lettuce and other leafy greens, which are sometimes irrigated with unsafe water containing fecal material. Federal regulations require frequent testing of fruits and vegetable for bacterial contamination. But traditional lab cultures take up to 48 hours to produce results, and other techniques such as DNA amplification and immunoassays are costly and are prone to false results. Recently, Charles S. Henry and colleagues developed a paper-based method to detect Salmonella, Listeria and E. coli in food and water samples. In their latest study, Henry’s team wanted to see if it would be feasible to use this paper-based technique in conjunction with electrochemical analysis to produce more refined results.
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