Buckyball co-discoverer dead at 62

It is with sadness that we report the death of nanotech pioneer, Richard Smalley at 62. Smalley, along with Harry Kroto and colleagues discovered the all-carbon fullerene molecule in the early 1990s at a time when I was just beginning my career as a science writer. Their fascinating research into the soccerball shaped molecules, which were nicknamed buckyballs by the popular science press, provided many of us with some of the greatest punning opportunities ever in science. More seriously, they and their tubular offspring are after many years of detailed and fundamental research beginning to reach new goals in the field of nanotechnology.

Smalley undertook pathbreaking research, showed an incredible commitment to teaching, and was dedicated to the idea of betterment of our world.

He died in Houston on 28th October after a long battle with cancer.

A pearl necklace for the lady?

Although recognized for its beauty for centuries, mother of pearl (aka nacre), has only recently been recognized as having technological applications. Scientists around the world have spent decades and millions of dollars studying nacre because it is such a tough and strong material. Abalone shells are the real estate of choice for the oysters, mussels and other mollusks that live inside them, explain Kalpana Katti and Dinesh Katti of North Dakota U.

“Nature has made this as the best armor material,” explains Kalpana, tapping on the outside of a red abalone shell. “The outside layer is very hard. The inside layer is very tough. That means the outside layer will take impact. The inside layer will absorb energy if the outside layer breaks. That’s exactly how armor works.” The strong, tough structure can be captivating for those who like to solve mysteries. “Strong means it can take a lot of load before it breaks. Tough means it will give a little. This is very unique,� explains Kalpana. “Most engineered composites are one or the other.” Military and aerospace applications are envisaged.

No Periodic Tables at CERN

According to the Scientific American Blog, CERN’s Andre Martin has worked out that there is no need for any of us to suffer wobbly tables ever again, apparently the periodic motion of a four-legged table standing on an uneven surface can be corrected by simple trial and error without resorting to folded up chunks of lab-book paper or beermats. All you have to do is rotate the table until you hit an orientation in which the table no longer wobbles.


Such fundamental science is surely why CERN exists, never mind particle physics and the Web.

However, one aspect of periodic tables that Martin doesn’t address in his thesis is how to arrange the seating so that noone ends up with a chair leg jammed up against their knee. Maybe he should seek funding for that important piece of research…

Google Search: chemistry

Try searching Google News for “chemistry” and you’ll be very lucky to find a report on the latest developments in molecular architecture. Chemistry, it seems is US college sports journalists’ favourite subject and they’ll swing us science writers a curve at every opportunity, chucking in a mention at every tee off:

“…Head coach Greg Shamburg will be looking for the right chemistry…”

“…Penn State builds better chemistry this season…”

“…Carolina building chemistry on and off the ice during fast start…”

the list goes on…

Climate Change Contradictions

We all have so-called climate change targets to meet. So, you’d think we would be doing everything we can to cut carbon emissions, conserve energy etc.

It sometimes looks like we’re heading in the “right” direction – wind farms are sprouting up all over the place and forests are being harvested for biomass fuel rather than our digging away at ancient fossil hydrocarbons…but it doesn’t really add up really does it?

How much energy does it take to build one of those turbines and how long do they last? Ditto plant and managing supposedly “sustainable” forests for biomass?

Couple that announcements about new airports and runways that will multiply passenger capacity and one has to wonder…

The BBC today reports that Prince Charless sees climate change as the “greatest challenge to face man”…he’s such an expert, of course. Oh, and he’s worried about bird flu.

How safe are safe insecticides?

Researchers have detected high concentrations of the popular insecticide class known as pyrethroids in suburban stream sediments, raising concerns about its effects on aquatic life. Pyrethroids are the common active ingredient in most domestic insecticides and have been marketed for many years as a more environmentally benign alternative. However, little information has been gathered until now about their effects on wildlife. A study published in Environmental Science & Technology could help clarify their status.

Search PubChem for Molecular Structures

Steve Heller just posted an update on on the PubChem system to the CHMINF-L discussion group.

PubChem now has additional bioassay and related information and the number of depositing/cooperating organizations now numbers 25, he told the group.

With 5,269,228 unique substances listed, now is a good time to track down that elusive molecular structure you’ve been searching for. ChemSpy.com offers quick and easy access to the PubChem search system

Tamiflu Molecular Structure

molecular structure of TamifluRoche is allegedly struggling to keep up with unprecedented demand for its antiviral Tamiflu in light of the massive media scaremongering that is going on globally thanks to the emergence of the H5N1 strain of bird flu. Taiwan already intends to stockpile a generic version of the drug oseltamivir with or without Roche’s permission. Currently, oseltamivir is synthesised from shikimic acid, which is obtained from the star anise fruit. The total synthesis takes at least ten steps, but chemists are working on simpler approaches.

That aside, Nature just reported a case of a girl with a strain of H5N1 that is resistant to this drug. If prevalence is high, then the media will have even more scare-mongering to do.

Flu Resistance

The international science journal Nature has lifted the media embargo on an important paper due for publication next week – The paper raises the possibility that the current prophylactic regimen for Tamiflu (oseltamivir) may have contributed to the emergence of partial resistance to the drug in a Vietnamese patient.

This paper provides an analysis of an H5N1 virus — isolated from a
patient in Vietnam earlier this year (1) – that is partially resistant to

The potential emergence of a resistant virus is a continuing concern of
health agencies, although evidence to date suggests that viruses with
mutations giving rise to resistance have reduced fitness, making them less
transmissible and of lower pathogenicity.

The paper highlights the fact that the current recommended
prophylactic treatment regimen may involve suboptimal doses and
durations of oseltamivir treatment that could contribute to the emergence
of resistant virus. It also raises the possibility that a larger arsenal
of influenza antivirals may need to be developed. Stockpiling zanamivir
(sold as Relenza) in addition to oseltamivir may be warranted.

Although the case described in this paper was part of a family cluster,
the paper does not directly address the issue of human-to-human
transmission of H5N1.

Nobel Prize for Literature 2005

Is it any surprise there is a gulf between science and arts?

This is what the art world seemingly considers important: Harold Pinter "in his plays uncovers the precipice under everyday prattle and forces entry into oppression’s closed rooms"

Whereas science renders discoveries in chemistry that offer “Fantastic opportunities have been created for producing many new molecules – pharmaceuticals, for example. Imagination will soon be the only limit to what molecules can be built!”