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Analysis and Comment (46)

It’s all science. Emmanuel Hebrard

Explainer: what Philae did in its 60 hours on Comet 67P

The drama of Philae’s slow fall, bounce and unfortunate slide into hibernation was one of the most thrilling science stories of a generation. But what in its short 60 hours of life on Comet 67P did it…
Grind, temperature, time and coffee-to-water ratio – nail these for the best coffee. Andy Ciordia/Flickr

The perfect cup of coffee boils down to four factors

Welcome to the second instalment in our series Chemistry of Coffee, where we unravel the delicious secrets of one of the most widely consumed drinks in the world. Here we look at how tweaking variables…
Winners of the Nobel Prize in chemistry: Eric Betzig, Stefan Hell and William Moerner. Matt Staley, HHMI / Bernd Schuller, Max-Planck-Institut / K. Lowder

Nobel Prize in chemistry: beating nature’s limits to build super-microscopes

Robert Hooke was a pioneer of microscopy, when back in the 17th century he drew stunning images of insects, plant cells and fossils. Since then microscopes that use light to magnify things we can’t see…
Professor Yonath gained inspiration from an unlikely source … hibernating bears. EPA/Brais Lorenzo

‘I consider science a luxury’: In Conversation with Ada Yonath

Israeli crystallographer Ada Yonath shared the 2009 Nobel prize in Chemistry for her work the ribosome – a protein-building structure central to life found in all living cells. Professor Yonath determined…
Chilli might make it seem as though your face is on fire – so why is milk so soothing? Andrés Nieto Porras

Explainer: why chilli burns, and milk helps soothe the pain

Whether it’s a few flakes on a pizza or the spiciest vindaloo known to humankind, most people can tolerate or even enjoy the tingling, burning sensation chilli can bring. So how does chilli deliver its…
Space pants: not a universe away from powdered booze. Justbe74too

Powdered alcohol and space diapers have something in common

Powdered alcohol has been in the news this week. First we were told that a product called Palcohol was the hottest new thing to hit the US market, a powder that would dissolve in water to give different…
More than just beakers and Bunsen burners, chemistry extends across many areas. *USB*

Proteins to plastics: chemistry as a dynamic discipline

AUSTRALIA 2025: How will science address the challenges of the future? In collaboration with Australia’s chief scientist Ian Chubb, we’re asking how each science discipline will contribute to Australia…
Crystallography: from a handheld experiment in 1912 to the size of many football fields today. Diamond Light Source

Explainer: what is X-ray crystallography?

Around 100 years ago a father and his son in north England conducted an experiment that would revolutionise the way scientists study molecules. A refined version of their method still remains one of the…
With a bang, not a whimper. Trey Ratcliff, Flickr

Explainer: the science of fireworks

While large firework displays have become even more more popular over the past ten years or so, most of the chemistry behind these exuberant displays has been known for centuries. Marrying this with modern…
In them, began life. University of Utah

Chemists show life on Earth was not a fluke

How life came about from inanimate sets of chemicals is still a mystery. While we may never be certain which chemicals existed on prebiotic Earth, we can study the biomolecules we have today to give us…
First you’ve got to work out what’s in it. Ohio Sea Grant and Stone Lab

Fast market for legal highs poses challenge for scientists

Legal highs that are novel psychoactive substances (NPS) have flooded Britain over the past few years and their use has increased drastically. NPS are cleverly constructed designer drugs often structurally…
The shiny surface of an apple is often courtesy of the wax of a Brazilian palm tree. Micah Taylor

No need to get browned off – edible films keep fruit fresh

Packaged green salad items, such as lettuce, coleslaw, or spinach sold ready to toss in the salad bowl, are now a frequent item in supermarket trolleys. With the ongoing popularity of such convenience…
Here I come, carrying seeds of life. skynoir

Building blocks of life could be formed on comets

No one knows how life began on Earth. But for it to happen, some simple chemical building blocks would have been needed. Many scientists argue the Earth’s violent past, with its massive volcanoes and regular…
Dung beetles love the Milky Way because they use it for navigation. No, seriously they do. mattvisser

Ig Nobels 2013: from attaching penises to stargazing beetles

This year’s Ig Nobel prizes were awarded on September 12 at a meeting of nerds at Harvard University. The prizes are given for genuine scientific research that “first makes people laugh and then makes…
Bioplastics of the future come in all shapes, colours and sizes. Achim Raschka

Creating renewable plastics that don’t cost the Earth

Imagine a future where packaging is made entirely from waste material and biodegrades to harmless by-products. Or where your home’s cavity wall insulation foam is made from captured CO2 emissions. Or where…
A GB (sarin) filled M55 rocket, is destroyed. US Army Chemical Materials Agency

Chemical weapons and the scientists who make them

It would take a hard-hearted person not to have been moved to tears by the images on our television screens of Syria over the last week - of infants struggling to breathe while their parents looked on…
Not so sexy, but very useful. Simon Ydhag, Uppsala University

Scientists make ‘impossible material’ … by accident

Researchers in Uppsala, Sweden accidentally left a reaction running over the weekend and ended up resolving a century-old chemistry problem. Their work has led to the development of a new material, dubbed…
How many times do we have to try before we are able to repeat those results? Queen's University

Fraud and trouble with replication are chemistry’s problems too

Scientific fraud has raised its ugly head once more. In a note to chemists in the journal Organic Letters, Amos Smith, the editor-in-chief, has announced that an analysis of data submitted to the journal…
Good research has to be sold right: Brian Kobilka. Embassy of Sweden Washington, DC

Nobel laureate: luck needed to fund curiosity-driven research

Brian Kobilka won the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 2012 for his work on G protein-coupled receptors (GPCRs), which are main targets for making new drugs. Akshat Rathi, science and technology editor, and…
Hopefully this will remain a rare sight. Edgaras Zvirblys

Explainer: what are chemical weapons?

There was chaos on the streets of Halajba in March 1988. In this corner of Iraq, at the time Iraqi Kurdistan, people had suddenly started experiencing cold-like symptoms – tight chest and nasal congestion…
Remains of a fertiliser plant and other buildings and vehicles after the plant exploded in West, Texas, USA, 17 April 2013. EPA

Why was the Texas fertiliser plant explosion so deadly?

At least 14 people – including a number of emergency services crew – died in an massive explosion on Wednesday night at a fertiliser plant in the small town of West near Waco, Texas. So what made the blaze…
Little does she know what she’s smearing on her face. canonsnapper

A foundation for cosmetics: dry water and liquid marbles

Do you buy expensive moisturisers in a bid to combat the ravages of age, or does catching a mid-afternoon whiff of your pits have you reaching for the roll-on? We smear various lotions and potions on our…
The porous structure of metal-organic framework materials makes them perfect for storing and separating gases. justus.thane

MOF the chart: why a record-breaking surface area matters

You may not immediately think of world records when you consider chemistry, but that’s exactly what some chemists are thinking about during their research. Many, working on something called metal-organic…
Robert J. Lefkowitz and Brian K. Kobilka (pictured) were jointly awarded the 2012 Nobel Prize in Chemistry “for studies of G-protein-coupled receptors”.

The 2012 Nobel Prize in Chemistry, explained

The reason we can see, taste and smell, and even why our heart races when we get excited or scared, can be explained by the actions of a family of “gatekeeper” proteins known as G protein-coupled receptors…
Understanding Venus' atmosphere helps us understand Earth’s past, present, and a potential future. Keith Mosley

What Venus has taught us about protecting the ozone layer

SAVING THE OZONE: Part six in our series exploring the Montreal Protocol on Substances that Deplete the Ozone Layer – dubbed “the world’s most successful environmental agreement” – looks at the atmosphere…
Chief Scientist Ian Chubb’s report, released today, presents some serious concerns for the future of Australian science. AAP Image/Alan Porritt

A prescription for healthy science? Chief Scientist’s report points the way

Chief Scientist Ian Chubb’s Health of Australian Science report, launched today at the National Press Club, starts on an optimistic note. Australian science is generally in good health: school students…
Love and neurochemistry go hand in hand. brianwiese

I love you (and that’s not the dopamine talking)

You know the feeling: your heart’s beating faster, your pupils dilate, your palms are sweaty, and you’ve got a belly-full of butterflies. You’re in love and, yes, you’re “all shook up”. The euphoria of…
Photosynthesis converts low-energy photons into usable energy; it may teach us how to do the same. papalars

New chlorophyll could hold the key to more efficient solar panels

As the great spectre of climate change continues to loom large over the future, the search for viable, renewable energy sources is becoming ever more important. Solar power has long been seen as a vital…
Chemicals tend to get a bad press, but we wouldn’t be here without them. abiomkar

We eat what we are – let’s detoxify the word ‘chemical’

One of the best tricks of making a horror movie is not to show too much, allowing the imagination to create the monster. We can’t see molecules, which is what makes them scary. We fill this vacuum with…
We don’t know exactly how the Earth formed, but we know it was messy. adametrnal

Journey to the centre of the earth: how our planet evolved

We know a lot about how humans evolved. But when it comes to our planet, we’re on shakier ground. Inert (nonreactive) gases, such as helium, neon and argon, trapped inside the mantle (Earth’s thickest…
They may have the same active ingredient, but fillers, colours and lubricants may vary. Flickr/Harsh Vardhan

Explainer: how do generic medicines compare with brand leaders?

“Would you like the generic brand of that medicine?” It’s a question you’ve probably been asked, or at least heard, when picking up a prescription at your local pharmacy. It’s likely you were told the…

Research and News (8)

Research Briefs (12)

Synthetic skin heals itself

A synthetic material both sensitive to touch and able to heal itself quickly has been created for the first time. Engineers…

Making hydrogen storage more efficient

A new molecule could allow for easier transportation of hydrogen, contributing to its viability as an alterative fuel source…

Bubbles pack a punchy pop

The focused energy surge that comes from collapsing bubbles has provided scientists with a clean way to drive not only chemical…