Sunbathing, Frozen Fleas, and Heavy Metal

Spectroscopynow.comI’ve got a whole new clutch of science news in my latest column on spectroscopy NOW for you this week:

Magnetic insights – A new MRI technique has been developed to allow physicists to see deep within tiny magnets. The technique could improve our understanding of magnetism at the fundamental level and lead to better computer hard drives and perhaps even new small-scale MRI instruments.

Salty solution to desalination – NMR spectroscopy has been used to assist in the development of chlorine-resistant membranes for use in water desalination plants. The new membrane materials could avoid degradation by chlorine disinfectants and reduce operating costs and inefficiencies and so make desalination a more viable prospect on a larger scale in the developing world. I asked the team leader Benny Goodman about the prospects for this system. “We anticipate a 3-5 year timespan to commercialization,” he told me, “The remaining obstacles are to demonstrate large-scale, continuous membrane production and to further tune the chemistry of the materials to be highly rejecting for seawater purification applications.” He added that, “Our current vision is that these membranes would be made in such a way that they could be used to swap out existing membranes.”

Summer screen – Wear sunscreen! It has been the advice of the medical profession, governments, and parents everywhere for several years, and is a topic I’ve touched on in how to sunbathe safely, on Sciencebase. Now, a report published this summer by the Environmental Working Group suggests that many popular sun protection products are at best ineffective, and at worst hazardous to health.

Reflecting on frozen fleas – US scientists have synthesised an antifreeze protein from the Canadian snow flea. The X-ray structure of this, and a synthetic enantiomeric form, could lead to an improved understanding of how this protein inhibits ice crystal formation and could have implications for transplant surgery.

Ordure, ordure! – A new study of soil fertilised with bovine manure reveals that soil quality can be improved significantly compared to that possible with modern “inorganic” farming methods. The study suggests that even poor quality land can be farmed for crops such as maize using manure as a soil improver.

Absorbing work on heavy metal – Chemical analysis and a powerful microscopy technique have been used to work out how toxic heavy metals, such as hexavalent chromium of Erin Brokovitch fame, can be adsorbed on to magnetic nanoparticles. The work could help in the development of a novel remediation technique for water contaminated with the carcinogenic hexavalen chromium.

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