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ACS News Service Weekly PressPac: Wed Aug 23 16:42:03 EDT 2006

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News Items in this Edition

New method for making potential cancer fighter

Ras is a protein that works as a molecular switch, triggering biochemical events inside certain cells that lead to cancer. The gene that produces ras gained notoriety as the first known oncogene — a gene that can cause cancer. Six years ago, Japanese scientists discovered that rasfonin, a compound isolated from a fungus, selectively destroys ras-dependent cells. Normal cells were not harmed.

With the prospect that rasfonin could lead to a new family of anti-cancer drugs, scientists began searching for a way to make enough rasfonin for tests. Scientists now are reporting development of that simpler method in a report scheduled for the Aug. 23 issue of the Journal of the American Chemical Society.

Robert K. Boeckman Jr. and colleagues explain that the only existing synthesis was complicated and not easily adapted for producing larger amounts of rasfonin. Their method involves only 16 steps (compared to 23 in the previous method) and produces 67 percent more rasfonin.

Hand-held instrument to detect public health and safety threats

Researchers are describing development of a shoebox-sized, handheld mass spectrometer capable of detecting minute amounts of chemical compounds in the environment. Among them are the peroxides believed involved in concerns about the safety of passenger jets early in August and other toxic and dangerous compounds.

R. Graham Cooks, Zheng Ouyang and colleagues describe the long-sought portable mass spectrometer, named the Mini 10, in a report scheduled for the Sept. 15 issue of the ACS journal, Analytical Chemistry. Traditional mass spectrometers — mainstays in identifying unknown chemical compounds — are large, delicate laboratory instruments. Rugged and portable, the Mini 10 weighs about 22 pounds — 30 times less than a conventional mass spectrometer — and uses about as much battery power as a laptop computer.

"This instrument has evolved from a decade-long experimental and simulation program in mass spectrometer miniaturization," according to the Analytical Chemistry report. The Mini 10 can perform chemical analysis while being carried and detects traces of chemical compounds quickly and accurately. "These characteristics are especially applicable in public safety, environmental protection and industrial process monitoring," the report adds.

A few hours of thinness for crude oil

Offshore oil producers long have dreamed of the technological equivalent of a magic wand: Wave it over pipelines carrying the thick crude oil produced in much of the world, and the oil thins out for just a few hours. This would allow it to be pumped more easily and economically through pipelines to onshore storage tanks where it would then return to its natural viscous condition.

Rongina Tao and Xiaojun Xu now report development of one such method for reducing the viscosity (thickness) of crude oil. Their report is scheduled for the Sept. 20 issue of the ACS journal, Energy & Fuels. The method uses a magnetic field to make tiny wax-like particles in paraffin-base crude oil clump together into a smaller number of large particles; an electric field is used to aggregate tiny asphaltene particles in asphalt-base crude oil into large ones. That clumping reduces oil's viscosity for a few hours.

“Asphalt-based crude oil and mixed base crude oil [thick oils] constitute a large portion of world crude oil production,” Tao and Xu write in the article. “Especially in North America, most crude oil resources, including Alaska oil, are asphalt-based. We believe the finding reported in this paper is thus very significant.

Promising new data on a gasoline-saving device that cuts air pollution

Start the car on a hot summer day, and barely 20 percent of the precious gasoline injected into an engine vaporizes and powers the engine. The rest becomes an important part of the engine's emissions of unburned hydrocarbon air pollutants. On a cold winter day, the waste and pollution is much worse. Multiply by 230 million cars in the United States and the picture is much, much worse.

Marcus D. Ashford and Ronald D. Matthews report new details on a light-weight, relatively inexpensive solution in an article scheduled for the Sept. 15 issue of the ACS journal, Environmental Science & Technology. Their so-called on-board distillation system (OBDS) targets the root cause of the waste ― gasoline's relatively low volatility, or willingness to change from a liquid to a gas.

The OBDS separates high-volatility components from gasoline and stores them for use right after startup, until the engine and other components warm and become more efficient. The system would add about five pounds to a car's weight and less than $100 to its cost when in full production, the researchers estimate. The new tests show that OBDS reduced cranking fuel requirements by 70 percent, increased fuel economy by 1 percent, and reduced tailpipe hydrocarbon emissions to the point where smaller vehicles might not need exotic pollution control devices, the researchers said.

The spin on spintronics

That new personal computer is small and super fast, boasts gigabytes of memory, boots up instantly, offers a standby mode that consumes no electric power, and yet keeps programs and data instantly available in active memory. Well, maybe not quite yet.

But, a rapidly emerging field called spintronics may make such revolutionary new electronic devices a reality, according to a report scheduled for the Aug. 28 issue of the ACS's weekly newsmagazine, Chemical & Engineering News. Senior Editor Mitch Jacoby explains that despite 50 years of progress in developing tiny semiconductor chips packed with millions of transistors, today's circuit elements operate on the same principle as 1940s-vintage transistors. They sense and respond to an electron's charge only.

Spintronics (spin-based electronics) uses an electron's angular momentum, a property associated with magnetism and classified as "spin up" or "spin down." Jacoby describes the innovations that spintronics promises, from the near-term to that futuristic quantum computer, which would encode data as multiple quantum states in addition to the "1s" and "0s" of traditional binary computing.

Fulfilling the promise of advanced electronic devices with unprecedented capabilities will require overcoming major technical challenges, including synthesizing new magnetic semiconductors and other materials with properties suited for spintronics applications, the article notes.

Special Event

Register Now for the Nanotechnology Media Tour

Many reporters who cover chemistry, materials science, medicine, health, environment and business closely follow the rapid-pace innovation in nanotechnology.

  • The American Chemical Society Office of Communications is offering a special event for news media who attend the American Chemical Society national meeting in San Francisco or who work in the Bay Area.
  • On Sept. 12 we’ll join nanotechnology pioneer, Paul Alivisatos, University of California, Berkeley, at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory’s new Molecular Foundry. Alivisatos is a renowned nanotech pioneer who edits the premier scientific journal in the field, Nano Letters, published by the American Chemical Society.
  • We’ll tour the Foundry, a toolshop with instrumentation for nanotech research, and hear presentations by scientists.
  • After a Q&A session, we’ll adjourn for a reception and a chance to chat informally about this exciting field of science.
  • An e-mail (m_woods@acs.org) or phone call to (202) 872-6293, will put your name on the sign-up sheet.

Journalists’ Resources

  • ACS News Service Weblogs: Science, September & San Francisco
    The approach of autumn stirs thoughts of Major League Baseball’s World Series and a world-series-class event in science. Visit the ACS News Service’s newest weblog for insights into preparations for an event expected to attract more than 17,000 scientists and other attendees.
  • 10th Annual Green Chemistry & Engineering Conference
    If you’re writing on green chemistry, our weblog from the 10th annual Green Chemistry & Engineering Conference can be a valuable resource.

Mark Your Calendars

232nd ACS National Meeting in San Francisco

September 10-14 is one of the year’s biggest and most influential scientific conferences – the 232nd ACS National Meeting in beautiful San Francisco.

The American Chemical Society – the world’s largest scientific society – is a nonprofit organization chartered by the U.S. Congress and a global leader in providing access to chemistry-related research through its multiple databases, peer-reviewed journals and scientific conferences. Its main offices are in Washington, D.C., and Columbus, Ohio.