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ACS News Service Weekly PressPac: Wed Feb 04 15:42:03 EST 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

Mars Rover device gets new mission on Earth

Developed to sniff out extraterrestrial life on other planets, a portable device known as the Mars Organic Analyzer (MOA) is taking on a new role in detecting air pollutants on Earth. Researchers in California report the development of a modified MOA able to detect polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), potentially carcinogenic molecules from cigarette smoke and wood smoke, volcanic ash, and other sources. The report appeared in the Jan. 15 issue of ACS’ semi-monthly journal Analytical Chemistry.

In the report, Richard A. Mathies and colleagues indicate that current earthbound PAH detection focuses on the cleanup of environmental contamination sites. On other planets, the concentration of organic PAH molecules can provide valuable insight into environmental conditions and the potential for extraterrestrial life. But existing PAH detection methods are slow and costly. Scientists thus are seeking an inexpensive, rapid and nondestructive technique for the measurement of PAH contamination.

The researchers tested samples from Lake Erie and a hydrothermal vent from the Gulf of California, as well as a Martian analogue sample from the Mars-like Atacama Desert, one of the driest spots on earth. They found that the detection sensitivity of the device was on par with current laboratory methods. “The method of PAH analysis developed here significantly advances the MOA’s capabilities for organic carbon detection and may also prove useful for environmental monitoring,” says Mathies. - AD

Natural solar collectors on butterfly wings inspire more powerful solar cells

The discovery that butterfly wings have scales that act as tiny solar collectors has led scientists in China and Japan to design a more efficient solar cell that could be used for powering homes, businesses, and other applications in the future. Their study appeared in the Jan. 13 issue of ACS’ Chemistry of Materials, a bi-weekly journal.

In the study, Di Zhang and colleagues note that scientists are searching for new materials to improve light-harvesting in so-called dye-sensitized solar cells, also known as Grätzel cells for inventor Michael Grätzel. These cells have the highest light-conversion efficiencies among all solar cells — as high as 10 percent.

The researchers turned to the microscopic solar scales on butterfly wings in their search for improvements. Using natural butterfly wings as a mold or template, they made copies of the solar collectors and transferred those light-harvesting structures to Grätzel cells. Laboratory tests showed that the butterfly wing solar collector absorbed light more efficiently than conventional dye-sensitized cells. The fabrication process is simpler and faster than other methods, and could be used to manufacture other commercially valuable devices, the researchers say. - MTS

Nanotubes trigger biochemical “cross talk” for consumer protection

tests

Researchers in West Virginia and Japan are reporting an advance toward a blood test that could help protect consumers from new products containing potentially harmful kinds of nanotubes. These ultra small wisps of carbon — 1/5,000th the width a single human hair — may become the basis for multibillion-dollar medical, consumer electronics, and other industries in the future. Their report is appeared in the Jan. 14 issue of ACS’ Nano Letters, a monthly journal.

Petia Simeonova and colleagues cite hints from past studies that nanotubes are toxic to the lungs of laboratory animals. Those findings emphasized the need for tests to check on the toxicity before products containing these particles hit the market.

In the new research, scientists deposited nanotubes in the lung of lab mice, and discovered the existence of a “cross-talk” mechanism, in which the animals’ lungs alerted the rest of the body to the nanotubes presence. The alert caused specific genes in the animals to kick into action and produce certain proteins. The resulting biochemical signature of nanotube exposure could become a biomarker for exposure to harmful nanoparticles, the researchers say. - MTS

Toward and “invisible electronics” and transparent displays

Researchers in California are reporting an advance toward the long-sought goal of "invisible electronics" and transparent displays, which can be highly desirable for heads-up displays, wind-shield displays, and electronic paper. The scientists describe development of tiny, transparent electronic circuits — the most powerful of their kind to date — that could pave the way for transparent electronics and other futuristic applications, including flexible electronic newspapers and wearable clothing displays. Their study appeared in the Jan. 27 issue of ACS Nano, a monthly journal.

In the new study, Chongwu Zhou and colleagues point out that although scientists have previously developed nano-sized transparent circuits, previous versions are limited to a handful of materials that are transparent semiconductors.

The researchers describe the development of transparent thin-film transistors (TTFTs) composed of highly aligned, single-walled carbon nanotubes — each about 1/50,000th the width of a single human hair. They are transparent, flexible, and perform well. Laboratory experiments showed that TTFTs could be easily applied to glass and plastic surfaces, and showed promise in other ways for a range of possible practical applications. - MTS

Nanoparticles in dietary supplements cause health concerns, regulatory challenges

An increase in the number of dietary supplements made with nanoparticles — so-called “nanoceuticals” — is raising growing concerns about their potential for toxicity in the wake of little government oversight, according to an article scheduled for the Feb. 9 online issue of Chemical & Engineering News, ACS’ weekly newsmagazine.

In the article, C&EN Associate Editor Britt Erickson notes that manufacturers of dietary supplements are increasingly using nano-sized particles (about 1/5000th the width of a single human hair) to boost nutrient absorption, enhance mental focus and creativity, and other health-promoting functions. One nonprofit organization that tracks nanotechnology estimates at least 44 “nanoceuticals” are currently on the market, quadruple the number that existed three years ago.

But consumers have no way of knowing whether a “nanoceutical” is safe or whether it does what it claims to do, the article notes. Unlike drugs, dietary supplements do not need to be reviewed by the Food and Drug Administration for safety and effectiveness before marketing. This lack of government oversight, coupled with growing concerns about the potential toxicity of nanoparticles, has led consumer groups to urge regulators to do more to ensure that nanoceuticals are safe and effective. Notes one regulatory expert, “If FDA waits much longer, we are going to be faced with hundreds of products and hundreds of companies and a much more difficult situation.”

Journalists’ Resources

  • 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.
  • Save the Date: ACS 237th National Meeting in 2009
    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.

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.

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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.

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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.