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ACS News Service Weekly PressPac: April 22, 2009

Note to Journalists and Other Viewers

Here is the latest American Chemical Society (ACS) Office of Public Affairs Weekly PressPac with 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

Cousin of the “ice that burns” emerges as greener new way to fight fires

Researchers in Japan are reporting development of a new type of ice that may provide a more efficient, environmentally-friendly method for putting out fires, including out-of control blazes that destroy homes and forests. Their study appears in the current issue of ACS’ Industrial & Engineering Chemistry Research, a bi-weekly journal.

Toshihisa Ueda and colleagues note in the new study that firefighters have used water and carbon dioxide as fire extinguishing agents for decades. That knowledge led the scientists on a quest to see if carbon dioxide hydrates, frozen crystals made of water and carbon dioxide bonded together, may serve as promising fire-suppressing materials.

Such icy chunks occur naturally in some parts of the world, including hydrates containing methane. Methane hydrates are a potential new source of natural gas, and are renowned as the “ice that burns.” They burst into flame when ignited.

To test their idea, the scientists used a special reactor to produce tiny pellets of carbon dioxide hydrates in the laboratory. They compared the fire-suppressing performance of these hydrates to similar-sized pellets made of normal ice (frozen water) and dry ice (frozen carbon dioxide) after sprinkling them onto several small, carefully controlled fires. The hydrates extinguished flames faster than the other two substances, they say. The hydrates also used less water than ordinary ice and released less carbon dioxide than dry ice, they note. Grinding the pellets into smaller pieces boosted their flame-fighting efficiency, the researchers say. - MTS

New biosensor for most serious form of Listeria food poisoning bacteria

Scientists in Indiana are reporting development of a new biosensor for use in a faster, more sensitive test for detecting the deadliest strain of Listeria food poisoning bacteria. That microbe causes hundreds of deaths and thousands of hospitalizations each year in the United States, particularly among people with weakened immune systems. Their study appears in the current issue of ACS’ Analytical Chemistry, a semi-monthly journal.

Arun Bhunia and colleagues note in the new study that fast, highly effective tests already are available for five of the six known species of Listeria. These tests use antibodies that signal the presence of the bacteria. However, no rapid, sensitive tests are available for detecting Listeria monocytogenes, the deadliest of the species, the researchers say.

The scientists describe development of the biosensor using so-called heat shock proteins — which the body produces in response to stress — instead of the antibodies used in other tests. They showed that their new sensor was faster and more sensitive at detecting the deadly bacterium than antibody-based tests. It had a microbe capture rate up to 83 percent higher than antibody-based tests. The new biosensor will reduce the likelihood of false-positive results for Listeria monocytogenes and may lead to improved tests for detecting other types of dangerous pathogens, the researchers say. - MTS

“Self-healing” polymer may facilitate recycling of hard-to-dispose plastic

Researchers in The Netherlands are reporting development of a new plastic with potential for use in the first easy-to-recycle computer circuit boards, electrical insulation, and other electronics products that now wind up on society’s growing heaps of electronic waste. Their study appears in ACS’ Macromolecules, a bi-weekly journal.

Antonius Broekhuis and colleagues note in the new study that so-called thermoset plastics are widely used in consumer electronics due to their hardness and heat resistance.

These plastics, however, contain additives and reinforcement materials that make them almost impossible to recycle. So-called thermoplastics, in contrast, are softer and can be remelted easily. As a result, thermoset plastics often end up in landfills or incinerators, where they can contribute to pollution. Scientists have long-sought a simple, inexpensive process to make these plastics recyclable, but they have been largely unsuccessful until now.

Broekhuis and colleagues describe development of a new type of thermosetting plastic that can be melted and remolded without losing its original heat-resistance and strength. The scientists showed in laboratory tests that they could melt granules of what they term a “self-healing” polymer and reform them into uniform, rigid plastic bars. They also showed that the plastic could be remolded multiple times, setting the stage for a new generation of recyclable plastics. - MTS

Presto! Fast color-changing material may lead to more powerful computers

Researchers in Japan are reporting development of a new so-called “photochromic” material that changes color thousands of times faster than conventional materials when exposed to light. The development could lead to a wide range of new products including improved sunglasses, more powerful computers, dynamic holograms, and better medicines, the researchers say. Their report appears in the Journal of the American Chemical Society, a weekly publication.

In the new study, Jiro Abe and colleagues note that photochromic materials are most familiar as the invisible layers found in the lenses of many high-end sunglasses, which change color when exposed to sunlight. For years, researchers have explored the possibility of using these unusual materials for optical data storage in computers and as “molecular switches” for more controlled drug delivery. Conventional photochromic materials, however, tend to be relatively slow-acting (tens of seconds to hours) and unstable, which prevents their use for many advanced applications, the scientists say.

The scientists describe development of a unique photochromic material that shows instantaneous coloration upon exposure to ultraviolet light and its disappearance within tens of milliseconds when the light is turned off. The decoloration speed is thousands of times faster than conventional materials. The material is also more stable and longer-lasting, they note. In laboratory studies, the scientists showed that the new material could instantly change from colorless to blue in both solid form and in solution when they exposed the molecules to ultraviolet light, and quickly back to colorless when the light is turned off. The development opens the door to futuristic technologies “with unprecedented switching speeds and remarkable stabilities,” the article notes. - MTS

Potholes on the road to ethanol from crop waste rather than food crops

Those highly publicized efforts to produce ethanol fuel from wheat straw, corn cobs, and other crop waste — rather than food crops — appear to be stalling as biofuel companies face mounting difficulties bringing it to the marketplace. That’s according to an article scheduled for the April 27 issue of Chemical & Engineering News, ACS’ weekly newsmagazine.

C&EN senior business editor Melody Voith explains in the magazine’s cover story that the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) in 2007 selected six “cellulosic ethanol” projects for up to $385 million in grants. The project’s goal was to reduce America’s reliance on foreign oil and make ethanol cost-competitive with gasoline by 2012. But construction has started on only one of the projects, with two cancelled outright, the article notes.

The biggest roadblock involves difficulty in scaling-up production from the small quantities of bioethanol that can be produced in the lab to the millions of gallons needed for commercial use. Other hurdles: Obtaining sufficient raw materials for commercial-scale production, financing construction costs in the hundreds of millions of dollars, and securing stable markets for bioethanol. Nevertheless, DOE managers express confidence that the emerging bioethanol industry can surmount these problems.

Journalists’ Resources

  • Press releases, briefings, and more from ACS’ 237th National Meeting
    http://www.eurekalert.org/acsmeet.php
    http://www.ustream.tv/channel/acslive
  • Must-reads from C&EN: Pushing the boundaries of traditional academic research
    A new academic drug discovery program and others like it are shaking up conventional notions of what a research institution can –– or should –– be. While students and postdocs fill the labs, they work side by side with ex-pharmaceutical industry scientists who have extensive drug discovery experience. To learn more about a unique approach to drug research, check out this must-read article in Chemical & Engineering News.
  • Resources for Covering Earth Day 2009
    The American Chemical Society’s (ACS) observance of Earth Day on April 22 – Chemists Celebrate Earth Day 2009 – will include community events focused on the theme, “Air — The Sky’s the Limit” based on understanding and protecting the planet’s atmosphere. For Earth Day 2009, ACS is sponsoring an illustrated haiku poetry contest about environmental chemistry for children in grades K-12 and a “Reduce Your Carbon Footprint” community program for children across the nation. Other events include presentations on global warming, the benefits of wind power and other educational projects. Check www.acs.org/earthday for details about Earth Day activities.
  • 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.

  • 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.
  • ACS satellite pressroom: 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 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. Launched in 2008, this award-winning series continues in 2009 with updates and fresh content. 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 — 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.