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International Year of Chemistry

With 2011 designated as the International Year of Chemistry, it's time for the 'central science' to take a bow - and the Nature journals are joining in the applause. Regularly updated throughout 2011, this web site collects together highlights of our in-depth news and comment, together with cutting-edge science from the world of molecules.


  • REACH further

    Europe's plan for a comprehensive chemical register needs more effort from all involved.

    Nature 475, 139-140 ( )

  • Chemistry's understated majesty

    The International Year of Chemistry is under way. Chemists should celebrate their discipline's past as the foundation of other fields, and face the future with increasing confidence.

    Nature 468, 5 ( )


  • Biochemistry without boundaries: Edmond Henri Fischer

    Biochemist at the University of Washington in Seattle, Edmond Henri Fischer won a share of the 1992 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for discoveries concerning reversible phosphorylation.

    Nature 478, S5 ( )

  • Tough science: Ada Etil Yonath

    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.

    Nature 478, S6-S7 ( )

  • Rational enthusiasm: Jean-Marie Lehn

    Chemist at the University of Strasbourg in France, Jean-Marie Lehn shared the 1987 Nobel Prize in Chemistry for his work on supramolecular chemistry.

    Nature 478, S8-S9 ( )

  • Lignocellulose: A chewy problem

    The inedible parts of plants are feeding the next generation of biofuels. But extracting the energy-containing molecules is a challenging task.

    Nature 474, S12-S14 ( )

  • A death in the lab

    Fatality adds further momentum to calls for a shake-up in academic safety culture.

    Nature 472, 270-271 ( )

  • It's not easy being green

    In the past two decades, the green-chemistry movement has helped industry become much cleaner. But mindsets change slowly, and the revolution still has a long way to go.

    Nature 469, 18-20 ( )

  • The trials of new carbon

    Researchers have spent 25 years exploring the remarkable properties of fullerenes, carbon nanotubes and graphene. But commercializing them is neither quick nor easy.

    Nature 469, 14-16 ( )


  • A broken biogeochemical cycle

    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.

    Nature 478, 29-31 ( )

  • In pursuit of female chemists

    Chemistry needs new female role models and a less macho culture to appeal more to the next generation of young women, says Carol V. Robinson.

    Nature 476, 273-275 ( )

  • Don't define nanomaterials

    Basing regulations on a term with no scientific justification will do more harm than good, argues Andrew D. Maynard.

    Nature 475, 31 ( )

  • Let's get practical

    Chemistry needs an overhaul if it is to solve big global problems and advance fundamental understanding, say George M. Whitesides and John Deutch.

    Nature 469, 21-22 ( )

  • What lies ahead

    Ten leading chemists set priorities for the forthcoming decades, and reveal the scientists they find inspiring.

    Nature 469, 23-25 ( )

  • Beyond the bond

    More than ever before, new techniques show the bond to be a convenient fiction, albeit one that holds the field of chemistry together, finds Philip Ball.

    Nature 469, 26-28 ( )

Books & Arts

  • Q&A: Roald Hoffmann, Chemical connector

    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.

    Nature 480, 179 ( )

  • Chemistry: An elemental heroine

    An opera on the astonishing life of Marie Curie enthralls Stefan Michalowski and Georgia Smith.

    Nature 480, 38 ( )

  • Chemistry: Enigmatic elements

    A Philadelphia exhibition is a playful celebration of the periodic table, reports Katharine Sanderson.

    Nature 470, 463 ( )

  • In retrospect: Pauling's primer

    Linus Pauling's book on bonding brought quantum mechanics into practical chemistry, finds Philip Ball.

    Nature 468, 1036 ( )

  • History: Radioactive romance

    Giovanni Frazzetto is captivated by an illustrated biography of Marie and Pierre Curie.

    Nature 469, 29 ( )

News & Views

  • Supramolecular chemistry: Molecular wires get connected

    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.

    Nature 480, 326-327 ( )

  • Organic chemistry: A radical approach to diversity

    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.

    Nature 480, 184-185 ( )

  • Interfacial chemistry: Gold's enigmatic surface

    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.

    Nature 479, 482-483 ( )

  • Nanotechnology: A molecular four-wheel drive

    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.

    Nature 478, 187-188 ( )

  • Biochemistry: Suicide of a protein

    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.

    Nature 478, 463-464 ( )

  • Biophysics: More than a bystander

    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.

    Nature 478, 467-468 ( )

  • Deft tricks with liquid crystals

    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.

    Nature 478, 330-331 ( )

  • Chemical biology: Many faces of a cancer-supporting protein

    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.

    Nature 477, 334-335 ( )

  • Structural biology: Snapshot of a signalling complex

    G-protein-coupled receptors initiate signalling pathways by forming complexes with agonist molecules and G proteins. The first crystal structure of such a complex is both reassuring and provocative.

    Nature 477, 540-541 ( )

  • Materials science: Slippery when wetted

    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.

    Nature 477, 412-413 ( )

  • Materials science: Dry solution to a sticky problem

    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.

    Nature 477, 42-43 ( )

  • Nanotechnology: Smart connections

    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.

    Nature 476, 403-405 ( )

  • Forum Chemical engineering: Fuel for debate

    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.

    Nature 476, 402-403 ( )

  • X-ray imaging: The chemistry inside

    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.

    Nature 476, 159-160 ( )

  • Molecular programming: DNA and the brain

    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.

    Nature 475, 304-305 ( )

  • Molecular physics: Matter-wave interference made clear

    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 474, 586-587 ( )

  • Organic chemistry: Triumph for unnatural synthesis

    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.

    Nature 474, 459-460 ( )

  • Structural biology: Porthole to catalysis

    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.

    Nature 474, 292-293 ( )

  • Physical chemistry: Water's wafer-thin surface

    A combination of vibrational spectroscopy and molecular calculations reveals that only the surface layer of water at the interface with air has a distinctly different structure from the bulk liquid.

    Nature 474, 168-169 ( )

  • Medicinal chemistry: New lead for pain treatment

    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.

    Nature 473, 458-459 ( )

  • Biochemistry: Life imitates art

    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.

    Nature 473, 35-36 ( )

  • Materials chemistry: Catalytic accordions

    Single chains of a specially designed polymer fold up in water to form an encapsulated catalytic chamber. This supramolecular assembly strategy mimics the one used by enzymes in nature.

    Nature 473, 40-41 ( )

  • Materials chemistry: Polymer networks take a bow

    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.

    Nature 472, 425-426 ( )

  • Materials chemistry: Spot-on healing

    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.

    Nature 472, 299-300 ( )

  • Spectroscopy: A closer look at polymer annealing

    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.

    Nature 472, 178-179 ( )

  • Biochemistry: How two amino acids become one

    Twenty amino acids form the basis of all proteins, but another two genetically encoded amino acids have also been discovered. The biosynthesis of one of these, pyrrolysine, has now been elucidated.

    Nature 471, 583-584 ( )

  • Organic chemistry: Overcoming catalytic bias

    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.

    Nature 471, 452-453 ( )

  • Materials science: Complex order in soft matter

    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.

    Nature 471, 309-310 ( )

  • Materials science: Bubble wrap of cell-like aggregates

    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.

    Nature 471, 172-173 ( )

  • Biophysics: Flipping Watson and Crick

    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.

    Nature 470, 472-473 ( )

  • Spectroscopy: Unexpected interactions

    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.

    Nature 470, 469-470 ( )

  • Organic chemistry: Metals are not the only catalysts

    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.

    Nature 470, 183-185 ( )

  • Drug discovery: A question of library design

    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.

    Nature 470, 42-43 ( )

  • Chemical biology: Catalytic detoxification

    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.

    Nature 469, 310-311 ( )

  • Imaging: Spot the hotspot

    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.

    Nature 469, 307-308 ( )

  • Structural biology: Finding the wet spots

    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 469, 166-167 ( )

  • Cell signalling: Binding the receptor at both ends

    G-protein-coupled receptors initiate a wide range of signalling pathways in cells. It seems that both a G protein and an agonist molecule must bind to the receptors to persistently activate them.

    Nature 469, 172-173 ( )

  • Supramolecular chemistry: Bigger and better synthesis

    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.

    Nature 469, 39-41 ( )

  • Molecular computing: DNA as a logic operator

    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.

    Nature 469, 45-46 ( )




  • Turning point: Joel Rosenthal

    Chemist Joel Rosenthal's move into synthetic-fuels research wins him a prestigious award and a growing lab.

    Nature 476, 243 ( )

  • Turning point: Christian Hackenberger

    A bioorganic chemist discusses how incremental success gave him the confidence to pursue big projects in protein synthesis.

    Nature 475, 415 ( )

  • Turning point: Jill Venton

    An analytical chemist turned neuroscientist probes fruitfly brain function.

    Nature 473, 411 ( )



Elsewhere on Nature.com

  • Nature Chemistry Insight: Chemistry beyond the bench

    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.

    Nature Chemistry 9, 669-695 ( )

  • Nature Chemistry editorial: Chemistry's year

    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.

    Nature Chemistry 3, 1 ( )

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