Short items

Heaviest element awaits confirmation 

A team of Russian and American scientists has claimed the discovery of element 118, the newest and heaviest addition to the periodic table. Three atoms of the element were produced between February and June 2005, at the Joint Institute for Nuclear Research (JINR) in Dubna, Russia.  

The experiment supports the suspected creation of one atom of the superheavy element in 2002, says the Russian team, who worked with scientists from the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, California, US.  

The new element is the heaviest ever created, with a relative atomic mass of 294. It was made by bombarding a californium target with a beam of calcium ions. Each of two separate experiments shot around 1019  calcium ions at the target, but only three ion collisions resulted in successful production of element 118. 

Claims of element 118’s discovery have been made and retracted before. In 1999, a team from the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, California, announced they had discovered elements 116 and 118. Those experiments involved firing krypton ions at a lead target. Two years later, the claim was retracted; it emerged that one physicist on the team had faked the evidence. Ironically, Livermore’s team leader Ken Moody says the Berkeley group is now best placed to confirm the new discovery. 

Independence for Imperial 

The University of London, UK, has accepted Imperial College London’s formal request to become independent of the University. Imperial expects to become wholly independent in July 2007, to coincide with its centenary year. The first students to register for an Imperial College degree will be postgraduates beginning their course in October 2007, with the first undergraduates enrolling for an Imperial degree in October 2008.  

All continuing students registered for a University of London degree at the time of withdrawal will be able to choose whether to switch to an Imperial degree. Imperial applied for and received degree-awarding powers from the Privy Council in 2003, which are as yet unused.

Tax break in Puerto Rico 

US based Pall Corporation, a global supplier of filtration, separation and purification products, has announced plans to expand its life sciences manufacturing operations in Fajardo, Puerto Rico. The company expects to invest around $50 million (?27 million) in facilities, machinery and equipment and add more than 250 full-time jobs in Puerto Rico by the year 2010. ’Expanding our operations in Puerto Rico is an important part of our strategic approach of aligning with customers worldwide and increasing production in lower tax rate jurisdictions,’ said company chairman Eric Krasnoff.  

US green legislation

The ACS has praised the passage of legislation designed to improve federal coordination, dissemination and investment in green chemistry R&D. The Green Chemistry Research and Development Act of 2005 aims to provide safer, more sustainable technological options to replace traditional products and processes.  

Under the bill, the National Institute of Standards and Technology, the National Science Foundation, the Environmental Protection Agency and the Department of Energy will work together to enhance funding and coordination of green chemistry R&D. ’The tools chemists and chemical engineers develop will be instrumental in meeting the challenges of environmental protection and economic growth,’ said ACS president Ann Nalley.  

Chemistry takes back seat among German elite

First-round funding has been announced in a science funding scheme to create a German elite, or ivy league, of universities. Chemistry-related programmes account for only a small slice of the €1.9-billion (?1.275 billion) funding pie. 

Life sciences were the big winners in the €873-million first round of the programme, dubbed the excellence initiative, which will finance creation of graduate schools and so-called ’excellence clusters’ with the goal being to increase international exposure of German universities and scientists. 

Torsten Hotopp, programme director of the Chemistry and Process Engineering Division at the German Research Foundation (DFG), a co-administrator of the initiative, told Chemistry World: ’In the first round, none of the funded graduate schools and clusters of excellence are chemistry dominated.’ 

Chemistry plays a significant role in only three of the 17 excellence clusters funded in the first round, each of which will receive around €6.5 million per year over the next five years, he said. Those would be the Center for Functional Nanostructures at the University of Karlsruhe, Macromolecular Complexes at the University of Frankfurt-Main, and the Munich Center for Integrated Protein Science (CIPS) at the University of Munich, Hotopp said. He estimated that chemists would account for no more than about 30 per cent of participating scientists in any of the 
three clusters.  

Book prize for Priestley biog

The Chemical Heritage Foundation, Philadelphia, US, has awarded its first annual Roy G. Neville Prize in Bibliography or Biography to Robert Schofield, emeritus professor of history at Iowa State University, for his book The Enlightened Joseph Priestley: A Study of His Life and Works from 1773 to 1804.  

The prize was launched to recognise an outstanding monograph in the areas of the chemical and molecular sciences. Schofield’s book is the second volume of what the CHF says is a definitive biography of Priestley, one of chemistry’s greatest practitioners.

Heroic status for safe delivery of toxic gases 

Three chemists at ATMI (Advanced Technology Materials, Inc), Connecticut, US, have been named ’heroes of chemistry’ by the ACS for their contributions to the development of a delivery system for safer and more productive delivery of toxic gases - AsH3, PH3, BF3- in the semiconductor manufacturing process. ’The development is one which supplies the gases in cylinders at less than atmospheric pressure, adsorbed on a high surface area, highly porous special carbon such that any fault during the use of the cylinder will not result in gas release,’ ATMI’s Donald Carruthers told Chemistry World. Carruthers achieved hero status along with colleagues Edward Sturm and Jose Arno.

Largest ever medical prize 

The X PRIZE Foundation has announced a $10 million (?5.4 million) Archon X PRIZE for Genomics - A multi-million dollar incentive to create technology that can successfully map 100 human genomes in 10 days. The prize, unveiled at a ceremony attended by US human genome mappers Craig Venter and Francis Collins among other luminaries, is designed to usher in a new era of personalized preventative medicine and stimulate new avenues of research and development of medical sciences. Diamond exploration company Archon Minerals is the title sponsor of the prize.  

First antimatter chemistry

Matter and antimatter particles have been persuaded to react together by the international research group Athena, working at Cern’s particle physics laboratory in Geneva, Switzerland.  

The chemical reaction between hydrogen molecular ions (H2+) and antiprotons produced a neutral hydrogen atom and protonium: a hybrid matter-antimatter atom, made of a proton bound to an antiproton. The reaction was an unexpected byproduct of a 2002 experiment originally designed to produce anti-hydrogen, by combining antiprotons and anti-electrons in near perfect vacuum conditions. Residual hydrogen ions which could not be entirely pumped away must have engaged in their own exotic chemistry, as researchers realised after closer analysis of the data. 

The protonium created survives for a microsecond, potentially long enough for its energy levels to be probed by laser spectroscopy. 

Asbestos decision deferred

Parties to a UN-backed treaty governing trade in toxic substances have failed to add chrysotile asbestos to its global watch list.  Under the Rotterdam Convention, exports of 39 chemicals and pesticides, including DDT and mercury compounds, require the prior informed consent of the importing country. 

Member states meeting in Geneva, Switzerland, reached no consensus on including the carcinogen chrysotile, which accounts for 94 per cent of world asbestos consumption. Canada, the world’s second largest asbestos exporter behind Russia, led dissenting voices. All other forms of asbestos are already on the list.

The issue will be revisited in 2008, when countries will also consider the addition of tributyl tin and the insecticide endosulfan.