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ACS News Service Weekly PressPac: March 11, 2009

Note to Journalists and Other Viewers

Here is the latest American Chemical Society (ACS) Weekly PressPac from the Office of Public Affairs. It has news from ACS’ 34 peer-reviewed journals and Chemical & Engineering News.

This information is intended for your personal use in news gathering and reporting and should not be distributed to others. Anyone using advance ACS Office of Public Affairs Weekly PressPac information for stocks or securities dealing may be guilty of insider trading under the federal Securities Exchange Act of 1934.

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

News Items in this Edition

New super-bouyant material: Life preserver might float a horse

Here’s a story that might float your boat: Researchers in China are reporting the development of miniature super-bouyant boats that float so well that an ordinary life preserver made from the same material might support a horse without sinking. The advance, they say, might be difficult to apply to full-size craft. However, it could lead to a new generation of aquatic robots for spy missions and other futuristic devices, the scientists add. Their study is reported in ACS Applied Materials & Interfaces, a monthly journal.

In the new study, Qinmin Pan and Min Wang note that researchers have studied the chemistry of surfaces for years in an effort to design novel drag-reducing and fast-moving aquatic and air devices, such as boats and planes. Scientists have often turned to nature for inspiration. One source: The water strider, whose highly water-repellant (superhydrophobic) legs allow this insect to literally scoot across water surfaces at high speeds. But researchers still have not found a practical way to apply this phenomenon to technology.

Pan and Wang made several miniature boats about the size of a postage stamp. They used copper mesh treated with silver nitrate and other substances to make the boats’ surfaces superhydrophobic. When compared to similar copper boats made without the novel surfaces, the water repellant boats floated more smoothly and also showed a surprisingly large loading capacity. The best performing mini-boat floated with up to two times its maximum projected loading-capacity, the scientists say. “Interestingly, the boat is able to keep floating even if its upper edges are below the water surface,” the scientists note. - MTS

First discovery of "animals-only" pigment bilirubin in plants

In a first-of-its-kind discovery that overturns conventional wisdom, scientists in Florida are reporting that certain plants — including the exotic “White Bird of Paradise Tree” — make bilirubin. Until now, scientists thought that pigment existed only in animals. The finding may change scientific understanding of how the ability to make bilirubin evolved, they say in a report in the Journal of the American Chemical Society, a weekly publication.

In the new study, Cary Pirone and colleagues note that bilirubin is a brownish yellow substance resulting from the liver's breakdown of hemoglobin, the red pigment that carries oxygen in the blood. Parents know bilirubin as the stuff that discolors the skin of newborns with neonatal jaundice, sometimes requiring phototherapy, treatment with light. Bilirubin also gives a yellowish tinge to the skin of patients with jaundice resulting from liver disease. Until now, scientists never dreamed that plants, as well as animals, produce bilirubin.

The researchers used two powerful laboratory techniques, liquid chromatography and nuclear magnetic resonance, to detect bilirubin in fruit of the white bird of paradise tree. The fruits contain unusual, orange-colored, furry seeds, and bilirubin turns out to be the coloring agent. They also found the pigment in two closely related plant species. The discovery may stir evolutionary research to understand why and how plants make what everyone regarded as an animals-only pigment, they suggest. - MTS

New technology for dating ancient rock paintings

A new dating method finally is allowing archaeologists to incorporate rock paintings — some of the most mysterious and personalized remnants of ancient cultures — into the tapestry of evidence used to study life in prehistoric times. That’s the conclusion of a new report in ACS’ Analytical Chemistry, a semi-monthly journal.

In the study, Marvin W. Rowe points out that rock paintings, or pictographs, are among the most difficult archaeological artifacts to date. They lack the high levels of organic material needed to assess a pictograph’s age using radiocarbon dating, the standard archaeological technique for more than a half-century. Rowe describes a new, highly sensitive dating method, called accelerator mass spectrometry, that requires only 0.05 milligrams of carbon (the weight of 50 specks of dust). That's much less than the several grams of carbon needed with radiocarbon dating.

The research included analyzing pictographs from numerous countries over a span of 15 years. It validates the method and allows rock painting to join bones, pottery and other artifacts that tell secrets of ancient societies, Rowe said. “Because of the prior lack of methods for dating rock art, archaeologists had almost completely ignored it before the 1990s,” he explained. “But with the ability to obtain reliable radiocarbon dates on pictographs, archaeologists have now begun to incorporate rock art into a broader study that includes other cultural remains.” - JS

Record long platinum nanowires: An advance toward better fuel cells

Researchers from New York are reporting production of the longest platinum nanowires ever made — an advance that they say could speed development of fuel cells for cars, trucks, and other everyday uses. The wires, 1/50,000 the width of a human hair, are thousands of times longer than any previously made, according to a report scheduled for the March 11 issue of ACS’ monthly journal, Nano Letters.

In the article, James C. M. Li and colleagues point out that short platinum nanowires already have been used in sub-microscopic sensors and other applications. With platinum the primary material used in fuel cells (which generate electricity cleanly from hydrogen and oxygen), scientists have sought to produce long wires from this precious metal. Those wires could be woven into the first self-supporting webs of pure platinum for fuel cell electrodes.

By a process known as electrospinning, the team made platinum nanowires long enough to construct that web. “Our ultimate purpose is to make free-standing fuel cell catalysts from these nanowires. This technology is a key step toward better solutions,” says Li. - AD

Affordable medical tests for the developing world

A new generation of simple, affordable medical diagnostic tests is heading toward the developing world where they may protect impoverished people from AIDS, tuberculosis, malaria and other infectious diseases. That’s the message from an article on these simple medical diagnostics scheduled for the March 16 issue of Chemical & Engineering News, ACS’ weekly newsmagazine.

C&EN senior editor Celia Henry Arnaud explains that scientists have designed the tests for the harsh realities that exist in much of the developing world. Those include lack of modern laboratory equipment, lack of refrigeration and unreliable sources of pure water. Many of the new tests require no instruments and can be read and interpreted by workers with minimal training. Some are multi-purpose, capable of diagnosing several infections simultaneously from a few drops of blood or urine, the article notes.

One new test, for example, can monitor levels of key immune system cells in patients infected with HIV, the cause of AIDS, and help determine when costly anti-viral therapy is needed. The tests may also be a boon for the developed world, making health care more affordable, the article suggests.

Journalists’ Resources

  • Must-reads from C&EN: Got gray hair? Blame it on natural bleaching
    Got gray hair? Scientists now have a new explanation for the color change that we often associate with aging. It turns out that it’s caused by a natural bleaching process. For more about this research study, check out this must-read article in Chemical & Engineering News, ACS’ weekly newsmagazine.
  • New ACS pressroom blog
    The American Chemical Society’s Office of Public Affairs (OPA) has created a new pressroom blog to highlight prominent research from ACS’ 34 journals. The blog includes daily commentary on the latest news from the weekly PressPac, including video and audio segments from researchers on topics covering chemistry and related sciences, including nanotechnology, food science, materials science and the environment. The pressroom blog will also cover updates on ACS’ awards, the national meetings and other general news from the world’s largest scientific society.
  • New Bytesize Science blog
    Educators and kids, put on your thinking caps: The American Chemical Society has a new blog for Bytesize Science, a science podcast for kids of all ages. The Bytesize blog contains entertaining video podcasts and audio episodes of the latest and greatest news from the frontiers of chemistry, including a video detailing a discovery about the bug-eating pitcher plant and an audio episode on a new use for magnolia tree bark.
  • Join the ACS satellite pressroom for daily news blasts on Twitter
    The American Chemical Society’s Office of Public Affairs (OPA) new satellite press room has quickly become one of the most popular science news sites on Twitter with daily updates on the latest research from ACS’ 34 peer-reviewed journals and other news, including links to compelling podcast series, information on the upcoming 237th National Meeting, and the latest recipients of ACS’ national awards. To receive press room updates, create a free account at https://twitter.com/signup. Then visit http://twitter.com/ACSpressroom and click the ‘join’ button beneath the press room logo.
  • ACS’s 237th National Meeting March 22-26
    ACS' 237th National Meeting in Salt Lake City, March 22-26, 2009. Expect more than 7,000 presentations on the broad spectrum of the sciences that involve chemistry — from astronomy to zoology. For advance complimentary news media registration: https://www.xpressreg.net/register/acsa039/media/start.asp
  • Press releases, briefings, and more from ACS' 236th 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 Philadelphia from August 17-21, 2008. Reporters can view press releases, search an archive with abstracts of more than 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 Public Affairs also offers recorded video versions of its national meeting "chat room" briefings and accompanying chat transcripts by going to http://www.ustream.tv/channel/acslive. 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.

  • ACS Press Releases

General science press releases on a variety of chemistry-related topics.

  • From Chemical Abstracts Service (CAS)
    CAS - Science Connections
    is a series of articles that showcases the value of CAS databases in light of important general-interest science and technology news. Ranging in topics from fruit flies to Nobel Prize winners, the CAS - Science Connections series points to the CAS databases for a more complete understanding of the latest news.
  • Save the Date: Green Chemistry conference on sustainability begins June 23

Jean-Michel Cousteau, noted explorer, film-producer and environmentalist, and Len Sauers, Ph.D., Vice President of Global Sustainability for The Procter & Gamble Company, are the featured keynote speakers at the upcoming 13th annual Green Chemistry & Engineering Conference in June in College Park, Md. The focus of this year’s conference, June 23-25 at the Marriott Inn and Conference Center, is on progress made toward research objectives identified in the National Academy of Sciences’ 2006 report, “Sustainability in the Chemical Industry: Grand Challenges and Research Needs.” Sauers will address the convention on June 24, Cousteau on June 25. For more information on the conference, please visit www.gcande.org.

For Wired Readers

  • Global Challenges/Chemistry Solutions
    Don’t miss this special series of ACS podcasts on some of the 21st Century’s most daunting challenges, and how cutting-edge research in chemistry matters in the quest for solutions. This sweeping panorama of challenges includes topics such as providing a hungry, thirsty world with ample supplies of safe food and clean water; developing alternatives to petroleum to fuel the global economy; preserving the environment and assuring a sustainable future for our children; and improving human health. An ongoing saga of chemistry for life — chemistry that truly matters — Global Challenges will continue in 2009. Subscribe at iTunes or listen and access other resources at the ACS web site www.acs.org/GlobalChallenges.
  • Bytesize Science, a podcast for young listeners
    Bytesize Science is a science podcast for kids of all ages that aims to entertain as much as it educates. Subscribe to Bytesize Science in iTunes No iTunes? No problem. Listen to latest episodes of Bytesize Science in your web browser.
  • Science Elements: An ACS Science News Podcast
    The ACS Office of Public Affairs is podcasting PressPac contents in order to make cutting-edge scientific discoveries from ACS journals available to a broad public audience at no charge. Subscribe to Science Elements using iTunes. Listen to the latest episodes of Science Elements in your web browser.

More ACS News


PressPac information is intended for your personal use in news gathering and reporting and should not be distributed to others. Anyone using advance PressPac information for stocks or securities dealing may be guilty of insider trading under the federal Securities Exchange Act of 1934.

The American Chemical Society is a nonprofit organization chartered by the U.S. Congress. With more than 154,000 members, ACS is the world’s largest scientific society 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.