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ACS News Service Weekly PressPac: September 12, 2007

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News Items in this Edition

New technology for tracking down builders of homemade bombs

Researchers in Australia are reporting development of a portable device to help track down builders of improvised explosive devices (IEDs) — those homemade fertilizer bombs that have wreaked such havoc in terrorist attacks around the world. Their study will appear in the Sept. 15 issue of ACS’ Analytical Chemistry, a semi-monthly journal.

Paul R. Haddad and colleagues point out that IEDs have become a mainstay weapon for terrorists, resulting in an urgent need for new technology to identify and eliminate the sources of the explosives. However, quickly and reliably identifying the chemicals used in these crude but deadly bombs remains a major challenge to investigators. IEDs are often made with a diverse array of conventional, easy-to-obtain materials that require slow and painstaking analysis in the laboratory following an explosion.

The new technology streamlines that process, quickly and accurately identifying the chemical composition of blast residues from IEDs in the field. It consists of an instrument, about the size of a briefcase, based on a modified form of capillary electrophoresis, a mainstay technology for separating components in a mixture. In the study, researchers used it to identify major components of blast residues in less than 10 minutes.

New way to watch the lipid flip — flippases, flopases, and scramblases

The “lipid flip” may sound like a rock and roll dance craze from the 1960s. However, it actually is a key biochemical process in which fatty materials termed lipids move into cells — movements that are pointing toward improvements in gene therapy, new medications for preventing the complications of Alzheimer’s disease, and other health boons.

In an article scheduled for the Sept. 19 issue of ACS’ Bioconjugate Chemistry, a bi-monthly journal, Vladimir Sidorov and colleagues report development of a new non-invasive method for monitoring the activity of lipid-flipping enzymes. Colorfully named flippases, flopases, and scramblases, these enzymes control the process in which lipid molecules literally summersault from the outer layer of a cell membrane to the inner layer where they can move into the cell itself. The actions of those enzymes can influence blood clotting, whether a cell lives or programs itself for death, and other processes.

In their study, the researchers describe drawbacks in existing methods for monitoring lipid. Their new laboratory method overcomes those problems, and permits monitoring of the lipid flip in actual cell membranes in real time, as the process unfolds.

Toward next-generation integrated circuits made from carbon nanotubes

Scientists in Israel are reporting the first simple and inexpensive method for building the large-scale networks of single-walled carbon nanotubes (SWCNT) needed for using these microscopic wisps in a future generation of faster, smaller, and more powerful computers and portable electronic devices.

In a study scheduled for the Sept. 12 issue of ACS’ Nano Letters, a monthly journal, Yael Hanein and colleagues point out that no assembly method has solved all of the key problems involved in fabrication of large networks. Those problems range from aligning SWCNTs in a preset pattern to integrating carbon nanotube circuits into an integrated circuit environment similar to those at the heart of conventional microprocessors.

The study describes a method to manufacture and assemble large arrays of SWCNTs into an integrated circuit format. It can be used on a variety of surfaces and produced on an industrial scale. The process involves creating networks of nanotubes suspended between silicon pillars, which are then transferred onto other surfaces by direct stamping, the researchers say.

Fast, portable test promises to help detect flammable liquids in arson

Researchers in Ohio are reporting development of an inexpensive portable test for accurately identifying flammable liquids used in arson — the leading cause of fires and the second leading cause of fire deaths in the United States. Their study is scheduled for the current (Sept. 1) issue of ACS’ Analytical Chemistry, a semi-monthly journal.

Identification of flammable liquids used in arson usually requires time-consuming laboratory tests, Yao Lu and Peter Harrington point out. The new test, called gas chromatography-differential mobility spectrometry (GC-DMS), works fast and is small enough for use in the field, they say.

In laboratory studies, the researchers added seven different flammable liquids to carpet samples and then ignited the samples to simulate an arson event. Analysis of the burned carpet with GC-DMS identified the individual flammable liquids with an accuracy rate of 99 percent. The results demonstrate that this novel test “could be successfully used for forensic analysis of ignitable liquids from fire debris,” the report states.

Preventing future bridge collapses: Protective coatings may hold key

In the wake of the tragic bridge collapse in Minnesota and last year’s shut down of an oil pipeline in Alaska due to corrosion, researchers are facing increased pressure to develop better protective coatings to help save aging infrastructures, according to an article scheduled for the September 17 issue of Chemical & Engineering News, ACS’ weekly newsmagazine.

Protective coatings and paints, such as epoxy resins and polyurethanes, are designed primarily for warding off corrosion in metal-based structures such as bridges, storage tanks and buildings. Part of a fast-growing, multibillion dollar industry, these chemicals have played an important but unsung role in protecting structures for many years, writes C&EN Senior Editor Alexander H. Tullo.

In the article, Tullo highlights efforts by coating manufacturers to balance long-term coating protection with growing customer demand for ease of use and lower prices and societal demands for reducing volatile organic emissions from paints and other coatings. He describes new multi-functional coatings that reduce the number of protective coats applied while retaining maximum coating performance and faster-acting curing agents that get paint jobs finished more quickly.

But disasters aren’t the only thing fueling demand for better coatings. A boom in construction work in emerging economies in China, India, and Eastern Europe is also increasing demand, Tullo notes.

For Wired Readers

  • Science Elements: New ACS Podcast
    The ACS Office of Communications is podcasting PressPac contents in order to make cutting-edge scientific discoveries from ACS journals available to a broad public audience at no charge. Science Elements includes selected content from ACS’s prestigious suite of 36 peer-reviewed scientific journals and Chemical & Engineering News, ACS’s weekly news magazine. Those journals, published by the world’s largest scientific society, contain about 30,000 scientific reports from scientists around the world each year. The reports include discoveries in medicine, health, nutrition, energy, the environment and other fields that span science’s horizons from astronomy to zoology. Podcaster for Science Elements is Steve Showalter, Ph.D., a chemist at the U. S. Department of Energy’s Sandia National Laboratories in Albuquerque, New Mexico, and ACS member.
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Journalists’ Resources

  • Press releases and more from ACS' 234th national meeting Aug. 19-23, 2007
    A treasure trove of news sources, background material and story ideas is available from the ACS' latest National Meeting. Reporters can view press releases, search an archive with abstracts of 9,500 scientific presentations and 1,000 non-technical summaries of those presentations, and access other resources at:
    http://www.acspresscenter.org/index.php
  • ACS’ Latest Annual Report
    The 2006 ACS annual report, A New Vision at Work, can be a valuable resource for journalists trying to keep pace with chemistry and the multiple fields of science that involve chemistry. The report features a series of commentaries by chemists, including Nobel Laureate Robert H. Grubbs, on chemistry’s role in working toward better medications, more nutritious food, sources of renewable energy, and other innovations. The newly published report is available for reading and downloading at http://www.acs.org/annualreport.
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