2023

2023 in the news

By Patrick Walter  | News editor

Much of the news this year continued to be dominated by instability around the world. Russia’s war on Ukraine shows no signs of letting up, with the destruction of the Nova Kakhova dam in June threatening to leave Europe’s largest nuclear power plant without enough water to cool its reactors. The war has also seen long-running scientific partnerships with Russia end. Researchers in Israel took to the streets in April to join mass protests against judicial reforms that many feared would erode democratic norms and harm the country’s scientific sector. These reforms were shelved following the attack by Hamas in October that led to over a thousand deaths. Israel’s subsequent efforts to eradicate Hamas have killed thousands of people in Gaza and destroyed universities there.

In happier news, the world’s first Crispr therapy was approved by the UK in November. Casgevy will be life-changing for patients with sickle cell disease and beta-thalassaemia and may be a cure for some. This exciting development is set to be followed by further Crispr therapies – clinical trials are currently taking place for HIV, cancer and protein-folding disorders.

The old adage about extraordinary claims requiring extraordinary evidence got a good outing again this year. This was the result of not one but two claims of room-temperature superconductivity. The claims by a group at the University of Rochester, US, have been doing the rounds since 2020. But in March this year the team claimed to have produced a room-temperature superconductor that functioned at pressures far lower than those previously reported for this class of hydride material. However, in November the paper was retracted as problems with the data mounted. It is the third room-temperature superconductivity retraction for this research group. The other superconductivity claim was even more extraordinary. A South Korean team claimed to have produced a superconductor that functioned not only at room temperature but also at ambient pressure. Feverish speculation followed as researchers raced to reproduce this relatively simple metal-doped lead apatite. Perhaps unsurprisingly, disappointment followed. The superconductivity supposedly witnessed could not be reproduced by other teams.

Plenty of fundamental chemistry has been on display this year too with the creation of an all-metal fullerene, caesium-based artificial atoms and an anti-aromatic ring of pure carbon. A personal favourite was a piece of spectroscopic detective work that revealed in May that the first catenane – two mechanically linked molecular rings – really had been made 63 years ago by Ed Wasserman. The claim met with scepticism at the time and the Manchester team investigating expected to find it had never been made. The story has a lovely coda though, as Ed Wasserman’s son contacted the Manchester group to let them know that his father was delighted to learn that he really had made the world’s first catenane in 1960!

January
January

ExxonMobil scientists’ climate models were accurate, but hidden

By

Documents show internal predictions were as good as contemporary science but executives publicly downplayed their significance

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February
February

Lipophilicity helps explain psychedelic drugs’ therapeutic effects

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Understanding why psychedelic drugs that bind to serotonin receptors promote neuron growth, while serotonin itself does not

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March
March

RNA building block uracil recovered from near-Earth asteroid Ryugu

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Japanese mission returns pristine sample to bolster idea that prebiotic chemicals could have been delivered by meteorites

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April
April

Gene-edited crops and animals get the green light in England

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Legislation holds out hope for agri-biotech industry that has found itself stifled by EU rules

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May
May

Overlooked documents shed new light on double helix discovery

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Rosalind Franklin was more than just a ‘wronged heroine’

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2023 business in review

By Phillip Broadwith  | Business editor

As war and pandemic-related cost increases and demand slowdowns continued to bite hard, the chemicals industry and parts of the pharmaceuticals sector are tightening belts: cutting jobs and costs to remain competitive.

Covid-19 therapy suppliers are bracing for a steep drop in revenues, while producers of a new crop of hormone-mimicking obesity drugs are racing to expand manufacturing capacity to keep up with soaring demand for their products.

Various sectors are fighting ongoing regulatory battles – whether over pricing of pharmaceuticals or responsibility for PFAS pollution. It seems unlikely these will be resolved very quickly.

Joe Biden

Pharmaceuticals roundup 2023

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Regulatory and pricing reforms have topped industry agendas in 2023, while weight loss drugs surged and Covid-19 therapies waned

Fracking in California

Chemicals roundup 2023

By Vanessa Zainzinger

Chemical companies entered cost-cutting mode in a year dominated by overcapacity and slow demand

June
June

Lithium-ion battery pioneer John Goodenough dies at 100

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Tributes paid to the inventor of the lithium–ion battery, who has passed away a month before his 101st birthday

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July
July

Revolutionising RSV prevention

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New vaccines and a long-acting antibody aim to protect older adults and babies from respiratory syncytial virus

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August
August

Photoactivated cycloaddition can store solar energy for decades in strained molecules

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A reversible cycloaddition triggered with visible light offers new opportunities for solid-state energy storage

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September
September

’This is just the beginning’: RNA editing set to democratise viral engineering

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Crispr-based system could ease development of novel RNA therapies

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October
October

The quantum dot story

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Julia Robinson explains how quantum dots went from a theoretical prediction to everyday reality and earned Alexei Ekimov, Louis Brus and Moungi Bawendi the 2023 Nobel prize in chemistry

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November
November

Argentina’s new populist president has the country’s scientists worried

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Researchers seek dialogue with new leader who plans to eliminate the nation’s science ministry and possibly its research council

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December
December

Life-saving cancer gene therapy under investigation after being linked to rare secondary cancers

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US drug agency examining six CAR-T therapies after reports of T-cell malignancies

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