FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
ACS News Service Weekly PressPac: March 05, 2008
- Sniffing out uses for the “electronic nose”
- Thirsty hybrid and electric cars could triple demands on scarce water resources
- Researchers develop more efficient computer-aided drug design
- Residential oil boilers raise health concerns for Northeastern U.S.
- Funding cuts jeopardize cleanup of nuclear waste sites
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News Items in this Edition
Despite 25 years of research, development of an “electronic nose” even approaching the capabilities of the human sniffer remains a dream, chemists in Germany conclude in an overview on the topic. Their review of R&D on digital noses is in the current issue of ACS’ monthly journal Chemical Reviews.
In the article, Udo Weimar and colleagues describe major advances that have produced olfactory sensors with a range of uses in detecting certain odors. Electronic noses excel, for instance, at picking up so-called “non-odorant volatiles”— chemicals that mammalian noses cannot pick up like carbon monoxide. Ideally, however, an electronic nose should mimic the discrimination of the mammalian olfactory system for smells — reliably identifying odors like “fruity,” “grassy” and “earthy” given off by certain chemicals. Until electronic noses become more selective, their roles probably will be limited to serving as valuable tools for tasks such as monitoring air quality and detecting explosives.
“The electronic nose has the potential to enter our daily life far away from well-equipped chemical laboratories and skilled specialists,” the article states. “Keeping its limitations in mind and adapted for a special purpose, this will be the future for the electronic nose for as long as the ability to smell odors rather than detect volatiles is still far away over the rainbow.” — AD
Eco-minded drivers in drought-prone states take note: A new study concludes that producing electricity for hybrid and fully electric vehicles could sharply increase water consumption in the United States. It is scheduled for the June 1 issue of ACS’ Environmental Science & Technology, a semi-monthly journal.
In the study, Carey W. King and Michael E. Webber note that policy makers often neglect the impact that fleets of hybrid and electric vehicles could have on already-scarce water resources. They calculated water usage, consumption, and withdrawal during petroleum refining and electricity generation in the United States. Each mile driven with electricity consumes about three times more water (0.32 versus 0.07-0.14 gallons per mile) than with gasoline, the study found.
“This is not to say that the negative impacts on water resources make such a shift undesirable,” King and Webber emphasized. “Rather this increase in water usage presents a significant potential impact on regional water resources and should be considered when planning for a plugged-in automotive economy.” — AD
Researchers in Germany report an advance toward the much awaited era in which scientists will discover and design drugs for cancer, arthritis, AIDS and other diseases almost entirely on the computer, instead of relying on the trial-and-error methods of the past. Their study is scheduled for the March 24 issue of ACS’ Journal of Chemical Information and Modeling, a bi-monthly publication.
In the report, Michael C. Hutter and colleagues note that computer-aided drug design already is an important research tool. The method involves using computers to analyze the chemical structures of potential drugs and pinpoint the most promising candidates. Existing computer programs check a wide range of chemical features to help distinguish between drug-like and nondrug materials. These programs usually cannot screen for all features at the same time, an approach that risks overlooking promising drug-like substances.
In the new study, researchers describe a more gradual and efficient system. Their new program uses an initial quick screen for drug-like features followed immediately by a second, more detailed screen to identify additional drug-like features. They applied this new classification scheme to a group of about 5,000 molecules that had previously been screened for drug-like activity. The new strategy was more efficient at identifying drug-like molecules “whereby up to 92 percent of the nondrugs can be sorted out without losing considerably more drugs in the succeeding steps,” the researchers say. — MTS
New research suggests that residential oil boilers, commonly used for home heating in the northeastern United States, should receive more attention as sources of air pollutants. The study — the first to identify certain specific air pollutants in home heating oil emissions — is scheduled for the April 1 issue of ACS’ Environmental Science & Technology, a semi-monthly journal.
Homes in the New England and Central Atlantic States consume about 80 percent of the 25 billion gallons of home heating oil burned in the United States. Scientists have been aware of potential public health effects of those emissions. However, there has been little specific information about the nature of the emissions.
Michael D. Hays and colleagues tackled that knowledge gap in their new study, which aimed to obtain improved or missing pollutant information for the popular home heating source. Among the substances of concern identified in the study were fine particulate matter known to cause asthma, bronchitis, and other health problems. “The residential oil burner is a source of numerous hazardous air pollutants and ultrafine particles and, hence, may warrant more attention in the future than it has received so far,” say the authors.
The research was conducted as part of a long-term national research program designed to better characterize particulate matter and its chemical precursors. The results are used to improve source emissions inventories and support efforts to determine how specific sources contribute to pollutant concentrations measured in the atmosphere. — AD
The Federal Government may need at least 20 years longer than previously planned — and an additional $50 billion — to clean up radioactive and hazardous wastes at nuclear weapons sites, according to an article scheduled for the March 10 issue of Chemical & Engineering News, ACS’ weekly newsmagazine.
The article, written by C&EN Senior Editor Jeff Johnson, cites a new U. S. Department of Energy (DOE) audit of its operations estimating that clean-up costs may reach $305 billion at about 25 sites where nuclear weapons materials were manufactured. That’s more than $50 billion above the Bush Administration’s earlier estimate. The audit also indicates that it may take until 2062 to finish the cleanup job, over 20 years longer than originally scheduled.
Still, the clean-up budget proposed this year by the Bush Administration is $5.5 billion, one of the lowest since the massive remediation effort began in the 1980s. The budget cuts may be particularly hard felt at large cleanup sites such as Washington State’s Hanford Nuclear Site, the most contaminated nuclear site in the country, the article suggests. Some officials fear that the cuts could delay cleanup of Hanford and other sites indefinitely.
The 2008 edition of the ACS Office of Communications’ popular news media tour/briefing/reception heads for a premier research facility where science connects with everyday life. Reporters will visit the U. S. Department of Agriculture’s Southern Regional Research Center (SRRC) in New Orleans. After recovery from Hurricane Katrina’s devastation, SRRC is continuing a 66-year heritage of discovery. SRRC’s landmarks range from development of wrinkle-resistant cotton fabrics to battling the dreaded Formosan subterranean termite in the “Second Battle of New Orleans.” The event begins mid-afternoon on April 7 during the ACS’ 235th national meeting, followed by a reception. To register, contact Michael Woods (firstname.lastname@example.org).
Mark your calendars for one of the year’s largest and most important scientific events — the 235th National Meeting and Exposition of the American Chemical Society (ACS), which will be held April 6-10, 2008, in New Orleans, La.
With more than 160,000 members in the United States and other countries, ACS is the world’s largest scientific society. About 12,000 scientists and others are expected for the event, which will include more than 9,000 reports on new discoveries in chemistry. Those reports span science’s horizons from astronomy to zoology and include a special focus on health, energy, food, environment, and alternative fuels.
In addition to coverage of breaking science news, the meeting provides an opportunity for independent reporting on disaster recovery efforts in the region prior to the June 1 start of the 2008 hurricane season.
For media registration, please click here. Housing reservations are now open for those who plan to attend the meeting. The ACS Press Center will be located in Room 206 of the Ernest N. Morial Convention Center. It will include a media workroom with staff to assist in arranging interviews, press conferences, wireless Internet access, telephones, computers, photocopy and fax services, and refreshments.
For reporters planning to cover the meeting from their home bases, the ACS Office of Communications will provide an expanded suite of resources, including press releases, non-technical summaries of research presentations, and access to news briefings.
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