X-ray crystallographer currently at the Weizmann Institute of Science in Rehovot, Israel, Ada Etil Yonath won a share of the 2009 Nobel Prize in Chemistry for her work on the structure and function of the ribosome.
Excess phosphorus is polluting our environment while, ironically, mineable resources of this essential nutrient are limited. James Elser and Elena Bennett argue that recycling programmes are urgently needed.
Theoretical chemist, poet and playwright Roald Hoffmann won a Nobel prize in 1981 for his work on how molecules change as they react. As the International Year of Chemistry comes to a close and he releases two books, Hoffmann talks about language, ethics and the sublime.
A long-standing issue in nanotechnology is how to connect molecular electronic devices. A method for splicing nanoscale wires made from different materials paves the way for a solution to this problem.
Compounds containing the trifluoromethyl group have many uses, but their isomers must often be made using different multi-step routes. Two studies now show how several isomers can be made by the same route.
Gold is not as inert as was believed - it can promote molecular synthesis. A study uses scanning tunnelling microscopy to catch gold in the act as it guides the formation of one-dimensional polymers from saturated hydrocarbons.
Nanoscale systems designed to imitate functions from the macroscopic world lead to a new appreciation of the complexity needed to actuate motion at the limits of miniaturization. A nanoscale 'car' is the latest example.
Plants and fungi follow a complex route to make the vitamin thiamine for carbohydrate metabolism. One of the pathway's protein participants turns out to be a surprising player, sacrificing its own activity in the process.
The tendency of hydrophobic surfaces to aggregate in water is often invoked to explain how biomolecules recognize and bind to each other. Water seems to have a much more active role in these processes than had been thought.
Some biological macromolecules can control their own assembly into elegant hierarchical structures. Synthetic supramolecules are catching up fast, promising new advances for optical and biomedical materials.
The protein Hsp90 is a target of promising anticancer drugs. An analysis of the components of Hsp90 complexes in tumours reveals a path that may lead to predictive assays of drug sensitivity in cancer patients.
The slick interior of the pitcher plant has inspired a slippery material possessing self-lubricating, self-cleaning and self-healing properties. The secret is to infuse a porous material with a liquid that repels oils and water.
Sticking plasters revolutionized the protection of minor wounds, but they're not ideal for fragile skin. A material that mimics the adhesive properties of certain beetles' feet might provide a solution.
Nanoscale devices have now been made that mimic biological connections in the brain by responding to the relative timing of signals. This achievement might lead to the construction of artificial neural networks for computing applications.
With fossil-fuel supplies set to dwindle, the race is on to find ways of making fuels from renewable sources of biomass. Two experts discuss the broad strategies - biochemical and thermochemical - that have emerged as practical approaches.
To understand the properties of many useful materials, the chemical structures that form within them from elements of low relative atomic mass must be determined. A new X-ray imaging technique does just that.
The idea that artificial neural networks could be based on molecular components is not new, but making such a system has been difficult. A network of four artificial neurons made from DNA has now been created.
Interference patterns are generated when light from a point source passes through two parallel slits. Electrons emitted from diatomic molecules produce analogous patterns, but these couldn't be observed directly – until now.
Nature crafts many molecules from common precursors, but this approach isn't always possible in chemical synthesis. A strategy for synthesizing a family of natural products succeeds by ignoring nature's blueprint.
The crystal structure of a sugar-transferring enzyme offers insight into the mechanism of a ubiquitous protein-modification reaction, and solves the mystery of how the enzyme recognizes certain sequences in proteins.
The synthesis of conolidine, a scarce, naturally occurring compound, has enabled the first studies of its pharmacological properties to be carried out. Excitingly, conolidine is a painkiller that seems to have an unusual mechanism of action.
The biosynthetic route to a naturally occurring insecticide, spinosyn A, has been established. One of the enzymes involved might catalyse a reaction that, although widely used by chemists, has proved elusive in nature.
A new study reports that the shapes and surface patterns of thin films of a stretched material can be modified by shining ultraviolet light at it. The resulting topologies depend on the exposure pattern, the applied stress and the sample thickness.
Rubbery polymers have been made in which damage is healed by exposure to light. The healing mechanism allows localized, on-demand repair, and might help to extend the lifetimes of materials for many applications.
Solvent vapour annealing processes are used to optimize the material properties of thin films of semiconducting polymers used in electronic devices. One such process has now been examined at the molecular level.
Metathesis reactions can be used to make carbon-carbon double bonds — bar one isomeric class. By using new catalysts and balancing out the stabilities of intermediates in the reaction, the elusive isomers can be made.
Spherical micelles can aggregate into highly organized structures. New micelle arrangements mimic known atomic crystals, both periodic and aperiodic, and provide evidence for a material with 18-fold rotational symmetry.
Using a microfluidic device, tiny polymeric capsules have been made in which different compounds can be isolated in separate, membrane-bound compartments - a prerequisite for the development of artificial cell aggregates.
Watson-Crick base pairs underpin the DNA double helix. Evidence of transient changes in base-pairing geometry highlights the fact that the information held in DNA's linear sequence is stored in three dimensions.
Unpaired electrons can exert effects that allow interatomic contacts in molecules to be detected more easily using nuclear magnetic resonance. One such effect reveals unusual interactions between certain atoms in a protein.
A long-standing problem in chemistry has been to find catalysts that allow molecules to distinguish between the two faces of reaction intermediates called carbocations. A way around the problem has been found.
Two approaches have emerged for creating libraries of compounds for use in biological screening assays for drug discovery - fragment-based ligand design and diversity-oriented synthesis. Advocates of each approach discuss their favoured strategy.
Protein engineering of an enzyme that catalytically detoxifies organophosphate compounds in the body opens up fresh opportunities in the search for therapeutic protection against nerve agents used in chemical warfare.
Plasmonic hotspots - nanometre-sized crevices that permit the detection of single molecules - are too small to be imaged with conventional microscopes. They can now be probed using super-resolution fluorescence microscopy.
The functions of proteins are critically coupled to their interplay with water, but determining the dynamics of most water molecules at protein surfaces hasn't been possible. A new spectroscopic method promises to change that.
Nature constructs macromolecules with a precision that chemists have struggled to achieve. So a strategy that offers simple routes to large molecules, starting from small templates, could be the next big thing in synthesis.
Computers use transistor-based logic gates as the basis of their functions, but molecular logic gates would make them much faster. A report of DNA-based logic gates could be a first step towards molecular computing.
A solution-processing technique for organic semiconductors has been developed in which lattice strain increases charge-carrier mobility by introducing greater electron orbital overlap between the component molecules.
Most Gram-negative bacteria can use phosphonates as a nutritional source of phosphorus, a process in which methylphosphonate is converted into phosphate and methane. The mechanism for this process has now been discovered.
An operationally simple method has been developed for directly adding trifluoromethyl groups to unactivated aromatic compounds. This radical-mediated reaction uses commercially available catalysts and a household light bulb.
An NMR technique has been developed that enables proteins associated with larger structures to be visualized as free molecules. In this way, the aggregation of amyloid-β monomers implicated in Alzheimer's disease has been probed.
Molecular simulations reveal a sharp increase in the fraction of four-coordinated molecules in supercooled liquid water close to the homogeneous nucleation temperature. This controls the rate and mechanisms of ice formation.
Three-dimensional images of multicomponent grain boundaries have been obtained with atomic resolution and chemical sensitivity. Grain-boundary behaviour can thus be linked to the macroscopic properties of materials.
A molecule in which four rotary motors are attached to a central axis has been propelled across a copper surface by inelastic electron tunnelling. This work opens the door to more sophisticated molecular 'machinery'.
The phenomenon of fluorescence intermittency – blinking – in quantum dots has been attributed to the Auger, or A-type, mechanism. A study now reports a second mechanism, along with methods for controlling blinking.
Unidentified infrared emissions are observed in space. A spectroscopic analysis shows that many come from organic solids of mixed aliphatic and aromatic structure – not from polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, as had been thought.
The crystal structure of an iron(III)-peroxo complex has been solved, and the reactivity of the complex determined. The results show that such species are viable oxidants for reactions catalysed by iron-containing enzymes.
In yeast, the THI4p enzyme catalyses a step in the biosynthesis of vitamin B1. A study reveals that THI4p is a source of sulphur atoms for the reaction — which means the enzyme is a co-substrate, and not just a catalyst.
The catalytic centre of the ribosome was thought to merely bring together mRNAs and charged tRNAs during protein synthesis. A study reveals that it also modifies the rate-limiting transition state for peptide-bond formation.
The nicotinic-receptor superfamily of proteins has evolved to generate both cation- and anion-selective members. A study suggests that the charge state of buried, basic amino-acid side chains is an essential feature of the charge-selectivity filter of these ion-channels.
The structure of an oligosaccharyltransferase reveals how the enzyme recognizes certain asparagine-containing amino-acid sequences in proteins, and how it activates amide nitrogens in asparagine side chains so that they react with sugars.
A study of the 'dangling bonds' that protrude from liquid water's surface at air-water interfaces reveals a remarkably rapid onset of bulk-phase behaviour in the liquid on crossing from air into water.
Z-selective cross-metathesis reactions of terminal enol ethers and allylic amides have been developed, and used in syntheses of antioxidant plasmalogen phospholipids implicated in Alzheimer's disease, and of a potent antitumour agent.
DNA base pairs usually adopt the Watson-Crick geometry, but alternative arrangements - Hoogsteen base pairs - have occasionally been observed when DNA is bound to a ligand or protein. A study now reveals that Hoogsteen base pairs also form fleetingly in naked DNA.
Images of a non-crystalline biological sample, mimivirus, have been obtained by injecting cooled mimivirus particles into the beam of the new hard-X-ray free-electron laser at Stanford, California, heralding a new era for biological imaging.
The new femtosecond hard X-ray laser facility in Stanford, California, has been used to obtain the three-dimensional structure of a membrane protein complex from nanocrystals of the complex - a feat that would have been almost impossible using conventional methods.
A procedure has been discovered that allows micrometre-sized spheres to self-assemble into an intricate, open crystalline lattice that is distinct from the close-packed periodic arrangements commonly encountered in colloidal crystals.
Hotspots can appear on rough metallic surfaces where incident light is concentrated on the nanometre scale to produce an intense electromagnetic field - an effect that can be used to detect molecules. The local electromagnetic field of such a hotspot has been profiled experimentally.
Transmission electron microscopy has been used to produce atomic-resolution images at the grain boundaries - the interfaces between microscopic crystals - in graphene, revealing the effects of the boundaries on the mechanical and electronic properties of the material.
The crystal structure of taxadiene synthase — a terpenoid cyclase enzyme that catalyses a step in the biosynthesis of the anticancer drug paclitaxel (Taxol) — suggests that the protein is the progenitor of all other terpenoid cyclases.
The designation of 2011 as the International Year of Chemistry by the United Nations offers our community an opportunity not only to celebrate its successes, but also to look critically at the challenges it faces.
The United Nations has proclaimed 2011 to be the International Year of Chemistry. Under this banner, chemists should seize the opportunity to highlight the rich history and successes of our subject to a much broader audience - and explain how it can help to solve the global challenges we face today and in the future.