There is evidence that disordered proteins play a role in the mineralization process. Here, the authors report on the development of elastin-like recombinant protein membranes using disordered-ordered interplay to investigate and guide mineralization.
Top 50: Chemistry and Materials Science
We are pleased to share with you the 50 most read Nature Communications chemistry and materials science articles* published in 2018. Featuring authors from around the world, these papers highlight valuable research from an international community.
Browse all Top 50 subject area collections here.
*Based on data from altmetric.com, covering January-December 2018
Owing to the energetic nature of N–N bonds, poly-nitrogen compounds are considered promising high energy density materials. Here, the authors synthesize three iron–nitrogen compounds at high pressure, including FeN4, which features polymeric nitrogen chains of [N42−]n units.
Deoxyribose and deoxysugar derivatives from photoprocessed astrophysical ice analogues and comparison to meteorites
Sugars are known to form from the UV photoprocessing of ices under astrophysical conditions. Here, the authors report the detection of deoxyribose, the sugar of DNA, and other deoxysugars from the UV photoprocessing of H2O:CH3OH ice mixtures, which are compared with materials from carbonaceous meteorites.
Current ultraviolet (UV) sensors cannot differentiate between UVA, B and C, each of which has a remarkably different impact on human health. Here the authors show spectrally-selective colorimetric monitoring of ultraviolet radiations by developing a photoelectrochromic ink that consists of a multiredox polyoxometalate and an e– donor.
Self-implantable double-layered micro-drug-reservoirs for efficient and controlled ocular drug delivery
Treatment for eye injuries and diseases is most efficient when delivered directly into the eye. Here, the authors developed a patient-friendly eye patch equipped with an array of detachable microneedles, through which drugs can be delivered through the cornea for an extended period of time.
Polynuclear metal-organic coordination complexes are often inaccessible by traditional synthetic chemistry methods. Here, the authors use on-surface supramolecular chemistry to form a planar trinuclear Fe complex, in which an accumulation of electrons around the positive mixed-valence polynuclear centre suggests a catalytically active core.
Linked cycles of oxidative decarboxylation of glyoxylate as protometabolic analogs of the citric acid cycle
The citric acid cycle (TCA) is a fundamental metabolic pathway to release stored energy in living organisms. Here, the authors report two linked cycles of reactions that each oxidize glyoxylate into CO2 and generate intermediates shared with the modern TCA cycle, shedding light into a plausible TCA protometabolism.
Water molecules exist as two distinct nuclear-spin isomers denoted ortho and para. Here, the authors separate these two isomers in the gas phase to show that they exhibit different reactivities in a prototypical proton-transfer reaction.
Artificial enzymes can be used to elicit reactions in cells. Here, the authors developed such an artificial catalyst combined with a genetic switch, and showed that it was readily taken up by human cells and able to kick off a reaction cascade resulting in the biosynthesis of the desired product.
While renewable energy production is a terrestrial concern, far less attention is devoted to solar-to-fuel conversion for long-term space missions. Here, the authors explore photoelectrochemical hydrogen generation in microgravity and overcome microgravity’s limitations by electrode nanostructuring.
Harvesting water from the atmosphere is an important solution to water scarcity, but doing so in arid climates is highly challenging. Here, the authors develop a metal-organic framework-based water harvesting device that can deliver over 0.25 L of water per kg of adsorbent over a single cycle at relative humidities of 10–40% and at subzero dew points.
Ambient environmental thermal fluctuations offer an abundant yet difficult to harvest renewable energy source, when compared to static thermal gradients. Here, by tuning the thermal effusivity of composite phase change materials, the authors are able to harvest energy from diurnal ambient temperature changes.
Auxeticity in synthetic materials is realised by geometrical design of porous structures rather than on a molecular level. Here the authors demonstrate auxeticity in a non-porous liquid crystal elastomer overcoming porosity related weakening of the material and opening a pathway to designed molecular auxetic materials.
In silico optimization of a guava antimicrobial peptide enables combinatorial exploration for peptide design
Antimicrobial peptides are considered promising alternatives to antibiotics. Here the authors developed a computational algorithm that starts with peptides naturally occurring in plants and optimizes this starting material to yield new variants which are highly distinct from the parent peptide.
Nitrogen is a model system still presenting unknown behaviors at the pressures and temperatures typical of deep planets’ interiors. Here the authors explore, by pulsed laser heating in a diamond anvil cell and optical measurements, the metallization and non-molecular states of nitrogen in a previously unexplored domain above 1 Mbar and at 2000-7000K.
The conjugation of nanoparticles and proteins can require complex optimization for the addition of different proteins. Here, the authors report on the development of a simple isopeptide bond forming method of conjoining gold nanoparticles and fusion proteins.
Albomycins are promising drug candidates for the treatment of bacterial infections. Here, the authors describe the total syntheses of albomycins δ1, δ2, and ε, and evaluate their antimicrobial activity, identifying albomycin δ2 as a strong agent against S. pneumoniae and S. aureus infections.
Removal of anthropogenic mercury from water streams is of great importance given its high toxicity and ability to spread rapidly. Here, the authors demonstrate the direct alloying of mercury with a fully recyclable platinum electrode, providing effective removal at different concentrations and pH, and in the presence of other contaminants.
Solar steam generation is limited by fouling of solar converters, and the steam temperature is usually pinned to 100 °C. Here, both limitations are overcome in a system utilizing a solar absorber and light down-converter to achieve radiative heating, which does not require physical contact between absorber and water.
Thioplatensimycin (thioPTM) and thioplatencin (thioPTN) are recently discovered thiocarboxylic acid congeners of the antibacterial compounds PTM and PTN. Here, the authors identify a thioacid cassette encoding PtmA3 and PtmU4 that are responsible for carboxylate activation and sulfur transfer, respectively.
Ambient ammonia synthesis via palladium-catalyzed electrohydrogenation of dinitrogen at low overpotential
The Haber-Bosch process, producing NH3 from N2, is a crucial yet energetically demanding reaction, inspiring interest in the exploration of ambient-condition alternatives. Here, authors develop a palladium electrocatalyst that shows a high selectivity and activity for N2 reduction to NH3.
Extraterrestrial sources may have provided prebiotic phosphorus to the early Earth. Here, the authors investigate the potential of phosphine-doped astrochemical analog ices to form phosphorus oxoacids as precursors to more complex prebiotic compounds.
Label-free analysis of physiological hyaluronan size distribution with a solid-state nanopore sensor
Involved in various diseases, hyaluronic acid is an important indicator of pathophysiology. Here, the authors report on a solid-state nanopore for the detection of the molecular weight and abundance of hyaluronic acid and demonstrate the system by studying an equine model of osteoarthritis
Monovalent manganese based anodes and co-solvent electrolyte for stable low-cost high-rate sodium-ion batteries
Sodium ion batteries offer more cost-effective storage than lithium and could be used for grid-scale energy storage. Here, the authors demonstrate a full cell based on a MnHCMn anode and an organic-aqueous cosolvent electrolyte. X-ray spectroscopy evidence further suggests the presence of Mn(I).
Amyloids may have played an important role in prebiotic molecular evolution but understanding replication of such information-coding molecules is still a problem. Here the authors design a model amyloid substrate and demonstrate sequence regio- and stereoselectivity during template-based replication.
Here the authors show the development of soft X-ray ptychographic tomography to quantify the electrochemical state and resolve phase boundaries throughout the volume of individual nano-particles from a composite battery electrode.
Intrinsic limitations of nanoporous graphene limit its applications in water treatment. Here the authors produce post-treatment-free, low-cost graphene-based membranes from renewable biomass and demonstrate their high water permeance and antifouling properties using real seawater.
Chemical synthesis of perfectly isotactic and high melting bacterial poly(3-hydroxybutyrate) from bio-sourced racemic cyclic diolide
Bacterial poly(3-hydroxybutyrate) possesses physical and mechanical properties suitable for substituting high-performance petroleum plastics but current production is costly and slow. Here the authors produce poly(3-hydroxybutyrate) with similar properties via ring-opening polymerization of bio-derived racemic cyclic diolide.
Only a few different types of supramolecular knots have been synthesized so far. Here the authors use Monte Carlo sampling, molecular dynamics and combinatorics to discover new knot types made of identical templates.
A photochemical diode artificial photosynthesis system for unassisted high efficiency overall pure water splitting
A major challenge facing solar-to-fuel technologies is the integration of light-absorbing and catalytic components into efficient water-splitting devices. Here, the authors construct a photochemical diode array to harvest visible light and split pure water at high solar-to-hydrogen efficiencies.
By using a near-IR optical excitation, upconverting nanoparticles may enable high-resolution imaging deep in tissue. Here, Tian et al. introduce alloyed upconverting nanoparticles with improved brightness due to newly described energy transfer pathways.
Molecular details that underlie mechanical properties of spider silk are of great interest to material scientists. Here, the authors report a previously unknown three-state mechanism of folding and an expanded structure of a spider silk protein that may contribute to elasticity of spider silk.
High energy-density and reversibility of iron fluoride cathode enabled via an intercalation-extrusion reaction
Poor electrochemical reversibility of the conversion-type cathode materials remains an important challenge for their practical applications. Here, the authors report a highly reversible fluoride cathode material with low hysteresis through concerted doping of cobalt and oxygen into iron fluoride.
Water electrolysis provides a carbon-neutral means to generate hydrogen fuel from water, but the process typically requires expensive, rare metal catalysts. Here, the authors prepare hydrogen- and oxygen-evolving electrocatalysts from earth-abundant elements that outperform noble-metal counterparts.
Selection and persistence of chemical non-equilibrium species is crucial for the emergence of life and the exact mechanisms remain elusive. Here the authors show that phase separation is an efficient way to control selection of chemical species when primitive carboxylic acids are brought out-of-equilibrium by high-energy condensing agents.
Dendritic core-shell nickel-iron-copper metal/metal oxide electrode for efficient electrocatalytic water oxidation
Splitting water into high-energy fuel represents a renewable way to generate energy, yet the sluggish oxidation kinetics drives up technological costs. Here, the authors prepare tri-metallic core-shell electrodes using nickel, iron, and copper metals to accelerate electricity-driven water splitting.
Stress-induced tribochemical reactions that reduce friction at sliding interfaces typically require liquid lubricants. Here, the authors discover the nanoscale tribocatalytic formation of onion-like carbon from 2D MoS2 and nanodiamond under dry and oil-free conditions, providing superlubricity at the macroscale.
Molecules exhibiting Möbius topology are fascinating but challenging synthetic targets. Here, the authors report the elegant synthesis and crystal structure of a catenane formed from two fully conjugated, interlocked Möbius nanohoops, and use theoretical calculations to understand its conformational stability and aromaticity.
The performance of energy materials is affected by structural defects, as well as physicochemical heterogeneity over different length scales. Here the authors map nanoscale correlations between morphological and functional heterogeneity, quantifying the trap states limiting electronic transport in bismuth vanadate thin films.
Understanding bottom-up growth mechanisms of 2D transition metal carbides (MXenes) may enable new synthetic routes to tailor functional properties. Here, the authors use in situ electron microscopy, density functional theory and molecular dynamics simulations to reveal the homoepitaxial growth mechanisms of a single TiC adlayer from a Ti3C2 monolayer substrate.
The atomistic behaviour of nanocatalysts still remains largely unknown. Here, the authors reveal and explore reactions of nm-sized clusters of 14 technologically important metals in carbon nano test tubes using time-series imaging by atomically-resolved transmission electron microscopy.
Rechargeable lithium-ion cell state of charge and defect detection by in-situ inside-out magnetic resonance imaging
The development of noninvasive methodology plays an important role in advancing lithium ion battery technology. Here the authors utilize the measurement of tiny magnetic field changes within a cell to assess the lithiation state of the active material, and detect defects.
Most current methods for additive manufacturing of complex metallic 3D structures are limited to a resolution of 20–50 µm. Here, the authors developed a lithography-based process to produce 3D nanoporous nickel nanolattices with octet geometries and a resolution of 100 nm.
Attempts to bend and twist multiple bonds in order to alter their reactivities have thus far been met with only modest success. Here, Braunschweig and colleagues isolate double-bond-containing boron-based species and their 90°-twisted diradical analogs, thanks to their stabilization with Lewis basic units.
Biomarkers are natural indicators of some biological conditions, often used in diagnostics. Here, the authors developed a biosensor that continuously measures concentrations of DNA or protein biomarkers, and is based on particles that change mobility by directly interacting with individual molecules.
Molecular solar thermal energy storage in photoswitch oligomers increases energy densities and storage times
Molecular solar thermal systems are promising for storing solar energy but achieving high energy storage densities and absorption characteristics matching the solar spectrum is challenging. Here the authors present a design strategy for electronically coupled photoswitches which allow for high energy density storage for solar energy storage applications.
Operando and three-dimensional visualization of anion depletion and lithium growth by stimulated Raman scattering microscopy
The relationship between Li-ion concentration and Li deposition remains an issue to be addressed. Here the authors show that stimulated Raman scattering microscopy offers insight into the concentration evolution and its impact on the dendrite growth, which is not possible by existing techniques.
Hygroscopic compounds in spider aggregate glue remove interfacial water to maintain adhesion in humid conditions
Spider aggregate glue avoids failure in humid environments but the fundamental mechanism behind it is still unknown. Here, the authors demonstrate that humidity-dependent structural changes of glycoproteins and sequestering of liquid water by low molecular mass compounds prevents adhesion failure of the glue in humid environments.
Reactions in aqueous microdroplets can significantly differ from those in bulk. Here, the authors report microdroplets that not only accelerate gold nanoparticle formation by several orders of magnitude but also promote spontaneous nanostructure formation with no reducing agents or template.