News in brief
Friction gets atomic
US scientists have elegantly shown that the vibrations of atoms are a key source of friction when surfaces rub against each other.
Robert Carpick, now at the University of Pennsylvania, and colleagues measured the mechanical resistance encountered by the ultrafine tip of an atomic-force microscope dragged across two different surfaces: diamond single crystals coated with either hydrogen or deuterium.
The surfaces were chemically identical, but the hydrogen-coated surface was found to exhibit around 30 per cent greater friction than its deuterium-coated counterpart. The researchers, reporting in Science (DOI: 10.1126/science.1147550), explained that this was because hydrogen vibrates at a higher frequency than deuterium, meaning more collisions between tip and surface atoms, and therefore more resistance.
Australia worst carbon polluters
Australia's power plants produce more carbon dioxide per capita than any other nation, a database listing CO2 emissions from more than 50 000 power plants around the world has revealed. The inventory also showed that US power plants still produce the most carbon dioxide by volume, at 2.5 billion tonnes annually. And the highest single CO2-emitting power plant in the world is in Taichung, Taiwan: it pumps out over 37 million tonnes of CO2 each year.
The Carbon Monitoring for Action database was launched by the Center for Global Development, a think-tank based in Washington, DC. Data is freely available form the website.
£100m for UK innovation
The UK government's Department for Innovation, Universities and Skills (DIUS) has invested £100 million in a competition to encourage innovation and new technology, via its Technology Strategy Board (TSB).
DIUS secretary of state John Denham encouraged businesses to bid for a share of the R&D fund over six months in eight priority technology areas, including advanced lighting, lasers and displays; materials for efficient energy production; low carbon technologies; and cell therapy. Full details at www.technologyprogramme.org.uk.
The TSB has funded more than £1 billion worth of projects since it was founded in 2004 to advise government funding. In July 2007 it was re-established as a business-led non-departmental public body, to operate at arm's length from the government.
Security-risk chemicals listed
The US Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has released a list of around 300 chemicals which it considers a potential security risk for chemical plants. Any facilities possessing the so-called 'Appendix A' chemicals above specified threshold amounts will have to fill in a screening questionnaire. The DHS will then decide which facilities must comply with stricter regulation under anti-terrorism standards.
Widely-used industrial chemicals on the list include propane, chlorine, and ammonium nitrate, as well as specialty chemicals such as phosphorus trichloride. But acetone and urea were removed after the initial draft.
The list follows the release of federal chemical plant security standards earlier this year (see Chemistry World, May 2007, p18).
US researchers have made a radio receiver from a single carbon nanotube, which acts as antenna, tuner, amplifier and demodulator all in one.
The nanotube is held between two electrodes in a vacuum, and powered by battery. It vibrates in response to incoming electromagnetic waves; and amplifies only those frequencies that match its own, tuneable, resonance frequency. These vibrations alter the nanotube's emitted electric field, which becomes an easily detected electrical signal.
The first FM signals played from the nanotube radio receiver included Handel's Largo, the Beach Boys' Good Vibrations, and Eric Clapton's Layla, scientists from the University of California, Berkeley, reported in Nano Letters (DOI: 10.1021/nl0721113).
Hanging out the drip line
Theory said it couldn't be done, but researchers at Michigan State University, US, have squeezed 29 neutrons into an atom of aluminium, producing Al-42. They also created Mg-40, the heaviest magnesium yet made with 28 neutrons.
The maximum number of neutrons an element can hold before it falls apart is termed the 'drip-line', and is key to understanding the nuclear reactions in neutron-rich stars. The latest neutron-rich aluminium isotope was not predicted by any theoretical models, suggesting an overhaul might be necessary, said Thomas Baumann and colleagues, publishing in Nature (DOI: 10.1038/nature06213).
Scientists' salaries revealed
The average European Union scientist's salary, 40,000, is 23,000 lower than their US counterparts, European Commission figures have revealed. Pay rates were weighted to account for the cost of living in each country, showing that EU researchers' local spending power is even 5000 less than Indian scientists, though they are ahead of Chinese scientists. Australia and Japan also pay their scientists far more handsomely than Europe.
There was wide variation within the EU: researchers in Austria, the Netherlands and Luxembourg earned close to amounts paid in the US, while those living in Romania, Bulgaria and Slovakia earned less than a third of that. And within the EU, male scientists earned anything from 15 per cent to 35 per cent more than females.
Arthur Kornberg (1918-2007)
Biochemist Arthur Kornberg, who won the 1959 Nobel prize in Physiology or Medicine for his pioneering research into the biological synthesis of DNA, died on 26 October at the age of 89.
Kornberg identified DNA polymerase, the key enzyme (now known to be one of a family) which triggers the process of DNA replication. His team was the first to synthesise viral DNA in the laboratory. He worked at Stanford University, California, from 1959, becoming emeritus professor on his retirement in 1988.
His son, Roger Kornberg, also won a Nobel prize - the 2006 chemistry award for understanding the mechanism of DNA transcription - while another son, Thomas Kornberg, discovered two more DNA polymerases.
Reach deadlines looming
The final deadline for pre-registering substances under Reach, the new European chemicals legislation, is a year away; but industry compliancy experts have urged firms to act now if they want to meet it.
'Reach will require a quantum leap in the resources a company requires to be compliant,' Paul Whitehead, chairman of the RSC's Environment, Health and Safety Committee, told delegates at a Reach Readiness Workshop on 30 October.
By 1 December 2008, companies should have pre-registered all the substances they make or import, so that the new European Health Agency in Helsinki, tasked with managing Reach, can identify all users of each substance. Meet this deadline and you get 11 years to complete full registration. But miss it and the substance will be banned from the European market until fully registered.
World's smallest microwave oven
Researchers at the US National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) have created what may be the world's smallest microwave oven. At 4mm long and just 7 m m across it's not much good for heating up your dinner, but could find use in controlling the temperatures of tiny volumes of fluids in lab-on-a-chip devices. The research is reported in Journal of Micromechanics and Microengineering (DOI: 10.1088/0960-1317/17/11/008).
Carbon monitoring for action
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