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ACS News Service Weekly PressPac: Wed Jan 31 15:42:03 EST 2007

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News Items in this Edition

The Tangerine: Top Tomato?

Research involving tomato sauce made from an heirloom tomato variety named the tangerine tomato has established that a specific chemical form of lycopene is more effective in increasing the levels of this much-heralded antioxidant in people’s blood. Ohio State University’s Steven J. Schwartz and colleagues point out that many deeply colored vegetables and fruits are rich in lycopene, a carotenoid linked to health benefits. However, not all of the lycopene is bioavailable — able to be absorbed into the blood after consumption, they note in a report scheduled for the Feb. 7 issue of the ACS’ Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry, a bi-weekly journal.

Red tomatoes, for instance, are very rich in lycopene, but it is the so-called trans isomer, a chemical form different from the cis isomer, that people absorb more efficiently into the body. In their experiments, researchers fed volunteers tomato sauce made from tangerine tomatoes, which have a bright orange color and more of the cis lycopene isomer. Volunteers also ate tomato sauce made from a different tomato variety especially rich in another carotenoid, beta-carotene.

Volunteers absorbed large amounts of both carotenoids. The researchers concluded that tomato sauce and other tomato products made from such varieties of tomatoes could provide a way to increase the bioavailability of carotenoids in the diet.

Tapping the Potential of a Neglected Family of “Smart” Fluids

In a discovery that may speed commercial and industrial uses of a third family of “smart fluids,” scientists in Maryland are reporting development of new photorheological (PR) fluids that can be made simply and inexpensively. Srinivasa R. Raghavan and his students point out that electrorheological (ER) fluids and magnetoreheological (MR) fluids have found wide application in devices ranging from automobile shock absorbers and brakes to damping technology to help stabilize buildings against earthquakes.

ER and MR fluids change instantly and reversibly from a free-flowing liquid to a semi-solid with controllable strength in response to an electric or magnetic field, respectively. PR fluids are designed to accomplish the same feat using light as the trigger. They are not widely used, however, either in the lab or in industry because they are difficult and expensive to make, the researchers report in an article scheduled for the Feb. 21 issue of the Journal of the American Chemical Society.

The new PR fluids, in contrast, are based on simple, inexpensive chemicals available in most labs, say the researchers, who envision PR fluids as a technology that could enable Micro-Electro-Mechanical Systems (MEMS). Those much-discussed devices would integrate mechanical elements, sensors, actuators and electronics on chips that could revolutionize many different products.

Subsurface Oil from 1989 Alaska Spill May Persist for Decades

Oil from the 1989 Exxon Valdez spill persists in an only slightly weathered form below the surface at some beaches along the Gulf of Alaska after 16 years and may persist for decades, researchers have concluded in a new report. It is scheduled for publication in the Feb. 15 issue of the ACS’ Environmental Science & Technology, a semi-monthly journal.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Jeffrey W. Short and colleagues analyzed subsurface oil at 10 beaches, selected at random from among oil-contaminated areas included in their 2001 and 2005 studies. Earlier research demonstrated that buried oil could retain toxic components for years if buried in anoxic (oxygen-depleted) sediments where little decomposition from weathering occurs. The new study identified a different mechanism in which oil can be preserved in sediments that do contain oxygen. The oil persists because it exists in a thick, emulsified form sometimes termed “oil mousse” that resists weathering.

“Such persistence can pose a contact hazard to inter-tidally foraging sea otters, sea ducks, and shorebirds, create a chronic source of low-level contamination, discourage subsistence in a region where use is heavy and degrade the wilderness character of protected lands,” the researchers conclude.

Debut for a “Far-Sighted” Superlens

Amid growing excitement about experimental superlenses that are “near-sighted,” researchers in California are reporting successful demonstration of a new “far-sighted” superlens with important potential scientific and industrial applications. Xiang Zhang and colleagues describe their far-field optical superlens (FSL) in an article scheduled for the Feb. 14 issue of the ACS’ Nano Letters, a monthly journal.

“The far-field superlens optical imaging has great potential for many exciting applications in optical imaging, electronics manufacturing and biomedical sensing,” the researchers report.

Lenses in conventional optical microscopes can produce images of objects roughly half the size of the wavelength of the light used to illuminate the object. Superlenses break that barrier, creating images of objects smaller than the wavelength of light. For optical microscopes imaging biological samples, that could mean imaging never-before-seen objects such as individual proteins traveling along the microtubules that make up a cell’s skeleton and act as superhighways for molecular transport.

Zhang and colleagues point out that existing superlenses, including one developed by his group in 2005, can form an image at the near field. The new FSL image more distant objects by capturing and amplifying “evanescent” light waves that are lost in traditional lenses.

Probing NASA’s Plans for a Lunar Colony

The success of NASA’s plans for a permanent human outpost on the moon may depend on the availability of technology that exploits the moon’s environment and natural resources to obtain essentials like electric power, according to an article scheduled for the Feb. 5 issue of Chemical & Engineering News, the ACS’ weekly newsmagazine.

In the article, C&EN associate editor Susan R. Morrissey discusses the ongoing debate about the need for humans to return to the moon, the costs, the scientific benefits of a lunar base and whether it should be in the hands of NASA or private industry. If the project does move ahead, it may have to rely on technologies that utilize on-site resources to construct and sustain the base, the article notes.

At present, sponsors of the mission would face enormous per-kilogram costs for the solar cells and other gear that will have to be transported from Earth to the moon. Alternative approaches might avoid such sticker-shock, Morrissey notes. One proposal, for instance, calls for using the lunar rocks and the moon’s intense vacuum to make photovoltaic cells on site. Another approach calls for placing long strips of solar cells on the lunar surface, creating a large-scale solar power installation that could provide megawatts of electricity for lunar colonists.

High-resolution color images of lunar missions are available on the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) page.

Journalists’ Resources

  • ACS Chemical Biology
    Highlights from the American Chemical Society journal, ACS Chemical Biology, are now available on EurekAlert!, the online science news service for reporters. ACS Chemical Biology is a monthly journal exploring cellular function from both chemical and biological perspectives. In addition to research papers and reviews, the journal also publishes “Spotlight” — current research in chemical biology from other journals; “Profile” — experts in the field; and “Points of View” — comments from leading scientists. The journal’s Web site is updated weekly with new content, and features a WIKI and an “Ask the Expert” section.

Mark Your Calendars

ACS National Meeting — Chicago, March 25-29

The American Chemical Society’s 233rd national meeting promises to be one of 2007’s biggest and most productive science conferences, and a bonanza of spot news, feature topics and background for reporters covering science, medicine, energy, environment, food, business or the environment. We expect more than 9,000 scientific papers on topics spanning science’s horizons from astronomy to zoology. Visit the National Meeting page for preliminary program information, media registration and housing.

Special Event: Chicago News Media Tour/Briefing/Reception

News media are invited to a special event at the Art Institute of Chicago, scheduled during the ACS national meeting. The Art Institute, Northwestern University and Argonne National Laboratory are partners in a noted art conservation science program. Reporters will get briefings from program scientists and a behind-the-scenes tour of science and conservation labs, followed by a reception in the beautiful environs of the Institute. The event begins at 4 p.m. on March 26. Space is strictly limited, so register early by contacting Michael Woods at m_woods@acs.org or 202-872-6293.

Chemistry’s Growing Role in Cancer Research

Chemistry has an increasingly important role in research on cancer diagnosis, prevention and treatment.

To spotlight that role, the American Chemical Society (ACS) and the American Association for Cancer Research (AACR) will cosponsor a special conference entitled Chemistry in Cancer Research: A Vital Partnership on Feb. 4-7 in San Diego, Calif.

The program will feature presentations by prominent scientists on drug discovery, proteomics, the chemical biology of carcinogenesis, biomarkers and analytical chemistry, modeling and bioinformatics, and structural biology.

For information on press registration for the meeting, visit the AACR Special Conferences page or call the AACR Communications Department, (215) 440-9300, ext. 101.

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.