Tag Archives: materials science

Creepy, crawly chemistry

Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Nerr0328.jpgWhen lab work gets frustrating, I ask myself: can’t there be an easier way? I’ll hazard a guess that if you’re a chemist like me, you’re inured to the frustration of traditional synthesis. Often, it is the most well-behaved chemical reactions that get you at the end. Yes, I’m talking about that scale-up: that step you promised your adviser would be “facile,” as well as those extra TLCs you could, should, and wish you had done before you started your column. I’m of the opinion that many of the synthetic struggles in the early stages of grad school are essentially self-inflicted. It always cracks me up when I hear someone vigorously complaining about running a notoriously nasty reaction. Honestly, did you really think deciding tackling a McMurry or Skraup wouldn’t cause you just a little bit of sweat? I guess many young grad students, like me, have a burning desire to prove their stripes en route to their secret aspiration: becoming the most interesting man woman in chemistry.

I’m currently in the midst of working to overcome a synthetic hurdle of my own. Without getting into its provenance or name, I’ll say that I am quite determined to successfully duke it out with this particular reaction. Last week, while I was wrapping up in lab and was in the midst of drawing up the battle plans for the next day’s synthetic attack, I had a rather painful realization. Washing and prepping glassware can be a mind-numbing task and as I stood there essentially doing my dishes, I recalled a recent high impact paper detailing the biosynthesis of quantum dots in earthworms.

In this issue: Graphene blisters

It’s not easy to observe the growth and formation of crystal structures on the nanoscale. In Graphene Blisters, Kaitlin Duffey reports on a UC Berkeley breakthrough that overcomes the barriers to electron microscopy of liquid samples. Single-atom-thick graphene provides an ideal window through which platinum crystals can be viewed – and now, recorded – as they organize in realtime, with little distortion. The windows, or blisters, of graphene can serve as portals for viewing other liquid-suspended particles, like biomolecules.

The latest issue of the Berkeley Science Review is coming soon. Each week, we’ll publish a preview of the fantastic articles, like this piece edited by Amanda Alvarez, that we have in store.

Ferroelectric materials under the microscope

Materials science began by studying the way a substance’s chemical makeup determines its properties. Recently, however, scientists have come to realize there is more to a material than its composition: changes in the shape of many materials at the nanometer-scale can produce startling changes in their behavior. But there remains one class of materials that has been frustratingly difficult to pattern into nanosized particles without destroying the property that makes them unique: ferroelectrics. New research conducted by materials scientists at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and UC Berkeley tackles the open questions surrounding nanosized ferroelectic materials with an array of cutting edge experimental techniques. Their findings, published last week in the journal Nature Materials, indicate that there may be light at the end of the tunnel for ferroelectrics after all.

Fireflies and the ubiquitous real-world application

A press release came out this week, touting an exciting new paper in Nanotechnology Letters in which enzymes from fireflies were combined with nanorods to producing easily tunable light. The release does a pretty good job of explaining the basic science involved in the work (I’ll get to that later), but I found it most notable for the forced way in which it scrapes for importance and meaning to an experiment that is already hugely important. Why, in particular, is chemistry (and its closely-related cousin, materials science) so frequently bound to “real-world” applications, while no one questions the applications of sequencing a genome or detecting the Higgs boson?

But first, why was this nanorod/enzyme science so interesting? It sits at an incredibly ripe threshold between nanotechnology and biotechnology that, from the viewpoint of many scientists, is key to developing a wide array of new technologies. The proteins developed by species over millions of years of evolution are often incredibly efficient at doing challenging chemistry. In particular, when it comes to using light to do chemistry (or vice-versa), we’re still struggling reaching the same levels of efficiency that natural selection has produced.