From its early days, the field of chemistry has been exploring nature at the molecular level. As such, chemistry is also used to explore natural resources and possible ways of exploiting them. As Earth’s environment is now rapidly deteriorating, chemists need to adapt their practices with the aim of contributing to its protection. Dr Surjani Wonorahardjo, Dr Suharti Suharti and Dr I Wayan Dasna, three researchers in Indonesia, have recently conducted a study exploring the ethical and environmental issues associated with current chemistry practices, in the hope to inspire reflection and positive change in the field.
Energy is vital for life. It allows important functions to occur in living systems, from the molecular level to the scale of the whole organism. Dr Helen Greenwood Hansma, from the University of California in Santa Barbara, believes that the types of energy used in living cells can provide clues to help us understand the origins of life. In her recent research, she explores how mechanical energy could have driven the processes that gave rise to early life in the absence of chemical energy.
Faecal sludge, a material derived from human waste, can be difficult to dispose of and causes significant disease and pollution worldwide. However, it also shows potential as a fuel, fertiliser and even a building material, if properly treated. Dr Santiago [san-tee-ah-go] Septien [sep-tee-uhn] Stringel and his team at the WASH R&D [wash R and D] Centre of the University of KwaZulu-Natal [kwah-zoo-loo-nay-taal], in Durban, South Africa, have been investigating the process for drying faecal sludge, towards developing new ways of transforming it into sustainable products.
Over the past few decades, astronomers have learnt more and more about the planets, moons, and asteroids of our Solar System – but we still have much to learn about the materials they are made from. For hundreds of years, we have used chemistry to study such materials on Earth, but there is no guarantee that they will behave in the same way in space – where they can exist in environments ranging from harsh, airless vacuums, to strange and exotic atmospheres.
The engine of a typical passenger vehicle is made up of hundreds of mechanical parts. These parts require lubrication to prevent them from overheating and to keep them working efficiently. Ken Hope and his team at Chevron Phillips Chemical, headquartered in Texas, have analysed the extent to which different types of lubricant oils reduce friction. They then used this data to estimate how an optimised oil mixture can achieve an overall improvement in engine efficiency.
Interstellar space may seem like the last place you would look when searching for the chemical origins of life. Yet on the surfaces of tiny dust grains within this vast expanse, complex chemical reactions are continually occurring, which likely played a key role in establishing the rich diversity of complex molecules we observe in the solar system today. In a new study, astrochemists in Spain and Italy, led by Albert Rimola at the Autonomous University of Barcelona, examine how advanced simulation techniques can be used to study these important processes on atomic scales.