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ACS News Service Weekly PressPac: April 16, 2008

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The American Chemical Society (ACS) News Service Weekly press package (PressPac) offers information on reports selected from 36 major peer-reviewed journals and Chemical & Engineering News.

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Please cite the individual journal, or the American Chemical Society, as the source of this information.

News Items in this Edition

Gel-like material shows promise as oral insulin pill for diabetes

Researchers in Texas report development of a gel-like material that could help speed the long-awaited arrival of insulin that can be taken in a pill by mouth, rather than with injections. The study is scheduled for the April 14 issue of ACS’ Biomacromolecules, a monthly journal.

In the report, Nicholas A. Peppas and colleagues point out acid in the stomach destroys insulin, preventing its administration by mouth. Many different research groups worldwide are searching for ways to overcome that obstacle. However, an ideal material for safe, effective oral delivery remains elusive.

The new study describes a promising candidate in the form of a polymer hydrogel that responds to changes in pH levels. This hydrogel has been modified by the addition of wheat germ agglutinin tethers, or anchors, that allow it to interact with the lining of the upper small intestine. In laboratory tests, the gel-like substance containing insulin expands in the acidic environment of the stomach and protects the drug from destruction by stomach acids. Upon exposure to the alkaline environment of the small intestine, the site of insulin absorption, the polymer shrinks and releases insulin. The addition of wheat germ agglutinin, a type of sticky plant sugar, allows the polymer to stick to the small intestine for prolonged periods. This improves the duration of insulin absorption, the researchers say. — MTS

Silicon nanotubes for hydrogen storage in fuel cell vehicles

After powering the micro-electronics revolution, silicon could carve out an important new role in speeding the debut of ultra-clean fuel cell vehicles powered by hydrogen, researchers in China suggest. Their calculations show for the first time that silicon nanotubes can store hydrogen more efficiently than their carbon nanotube counterparts. The study will appear in the April 24 issue of ACS’ Journal of Physical Chemistry C, a weekly publication.

Dapeng Cao and colleagues note that researchers have focused on the potential use of carbon nanotubes for storing hydrogen in fuel cell vehicles for years. Despite nanotubes’ great promise, they have been unable to meet the hydrogen storage goals proposed by the U.S. Department of Energy for hydrogen fuel cell vehicles. A more efficient material for hydrogen storage is needed, scientists say.

In the study, Cao’s group used powerful molecular modeling tools to compare the hydrogen storage capacities of newly developed silicon nanotubes to carbon nanotubes. They found that, in theory, silicon nanotubes can absorb hydrogen molecules more efficiently than carbon nanotubes under normal fuel cell operating conditions. The calculations pave the way for tests to determine whether silicon nanotubes can meet government standards for hydrogen storage, the scientists note. — MTS

Questioning nuclear power’s ability to forestall global warming

Rising energy and environmental costs may prevent nuclear power from being a sustainable alternative energy source in the fight against global warming, according to a study in the April 1 issue of ACS’ Environmental Science & Technology, a semi-monthly journal.

In the article, Gavin M. Mudd and Mark Diesendorf investigate the “eco-efficiency” of mining and milling uranium for use as fuel in nuclear power plants. Advocates of nuclear power claim it has the potential to mitigate global warming. Detractors, however, link it to dangers such as proliferation of nuclear weapons and problems such as permanent disposal of nuclear waste.

The study points out that supplies of high-grade uranium ore are declining, which may boost nuclear fuel's environmental and economic costs, including increases in energy use, water consumption and greenhouse gas emissions. In addition, newly discovered uranium deposits may be more difficult to extract in the future — a further drain on economic and environmental resources.

“The extent of economically recoverable uranium, although somewhat uncertain, is clearly linked to exploration effort, technology and economics but is inextricably linked to environmental costs, such as energy, water, and chemicals consumption, greenhouse gas emissions and broader social issues,” the authors say. “These issues are critical to understand in the current debate over nuclear power, greenhouse gas emissions, and climate change, especially with respect to ascribing sustainability to such activities as uranium milling and mining.” — JS

Chemists reproduce the rose’s “petal effect”

The lotus flower is nature’s “slip n’ slide,” where water beads skate along each petal’s surface like liquid metal. Now, chemists reveal the ying to the lotus’ frictionless yang: rose petals. Chemists have found the physical basis for the rose’s ability to grip water droplets in place, even when the flower is upside down. In a study scheduled for the April 15 issue of ACS’ Langmuir, a bi-weekly journal, this newly described “petal effect” could lead to unique new adhesive materials, coatings and fabrics.

The study of biological microstructures has been a lively area of research, particularly in the design of biomimetic materials. But before the petal effect could be replicated in synthetic materials, an in-depth understanding of the rose’s surface was needed.

Lin Feng and colleagues in China provide the first description of the microscale surface of roses, composed of arrays of tiny, fleshy projections called micropapillae. The micropapillae form a seal with water droplets, allowing them to cling to the surface of the rose petal. Using these new insights, Feng was able to create a synthetic rose petal surface with the same properties.

“The simple duplication of petal surface provides us not only a theoretical explanation of the phenomenon but also an inspiration for the preparation of biomimetic polymer films, which should be of great biological and technological importance,” says Feng. — AD

Demand for improved consumer products drives growth of key family of chemical ingredients

From running shoes to automobiles with improved fuel efficiency, the demand for consumer products with better quality and performance is boosting demand for dyes, adhesives, rust inhibitors, and other so-called “specialty chemicals,” according to an article scheduled for the April 21 issue of Chemical & Engineering News, ACS’ weekly newsmagazine. The article presents a snapshot of this important yet often little-publicized sector of the chemical industry.

Written by Senior Editor Rick Mullin, C&EN’s cover story notes that specialty chemical-based “additives” enhance paint, soap, electronics, sneakers and hundreds of other consumer products to make them perform better and last longer. The development of innovative new specialty chemicals has evolved into a robust independent industry, whereas in the past it was a hidden component in the overall manufacture of other products.

Mullin presents the perspective of various industry leaders who comment on this diverse, profitable, and ever-expanding market for chemicals produced in smaller volume than bulk chemicals, such as petrochemicals made from petroleum. Green chemistry is one major force behind the growth of the specialty chemical industry, fostering production of environmentally-friendly materials that increasingly are used in consumer products.

Journalists’ Resources

  • Press releases, chat room sessions, and more from ACS’ 235th National Meeting

It’s never too late to explore a treasure trove of news sources, background material and story ideas available from the ACS' latest National Meeting, which was held in New Orleans from April 6-10, 2008. Reporters can view press releases, search an archive with abstracts of 9,000 scientific presentations and hundreds of non-technical summaries of those presentations, and access other resources at: www.eurekalert.org/acsmeet.php.

The ACS Office of Communications also offers recorded video versions of its national meeting “chat room” briefings and accompanying chat transcripts by going to http://www.ustream.tv/channel/acs-live-from-new-orleans. To use this site, you must first register with Ustream.tv by going to http://ustream.tv/sign-up-step-1. It’s free and only takes a minute or two to sign up. To view the archived chat room sessions, proceed by clicking the “Login” button at the top right of the Ustream window and then selecting “Past Clips.” Please note that Ustream requires the latest version of Adobe Flash, which can be downloaded without charge at http://www.adobe.com/products/flashplayer.

  • Resources for Covering Earth Day 2008

The American Chemical Society’s (ACS) observance of Earth Day on April 22 — Chemists Celebrate Earth Day 2008 — will include community events focused on the theme, “Streaming Chemistry.” Based on efforts to protect the world’s water supply, ACS is sponsoring a haiku poetry contest about streams and chemistry for children in grades K-12 and an “Adopt-a-Stream” community program for children across the nation. Other activities include shore cleanups, aquatic habitat restoration, and educational projects. Check www.acs.org/earthday for details about Earth Day activities.

  • ChemMatters Matters for Journalists

This quarterly ACS magazine for high school chemistry students, teachers, and others explains the chemistry that underpins everyday life in a lively, understandable fashion. ChemMatters is available at www.acs.org/chemmatters. You can also receive the most recent issues by contacting the editor, Pat Pages, at: 202-872-6164 or chemmatters@acs.org.

For Wired Readers

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  • Science Elements: An ACS Science News Podcast
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  • ACS News



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