Sunday, March 21, 2010

Digesting chemistry at IUPAC2009

Just a quick blog today as I’ve been out at the Gala dinner here at Glasgow - I had a nice chat with Ben Feringa, who gave a stonking plenary lecture this evening. The man is a genius - he was talking about his group’s work in nanomachinery, making molecular switches, rotors and even molecules that can ’swim’ across surfaces. He made the very interesting point that most chemistry within a cell involves some kind of motor molecule at some stage, whereas none of the chemistry we do in flasks is controlled that way.

However, when considering whether it will be possible to have nanomachines floating around our bodies at some point in the future, he did point out that we are far less limited in the molecular diversity we have available to build such things, so who knows what the future might bring.

This morning’s plenary session from Peter Bruce was also fantastic. He highlighted some of the basic materials chemistry his group have been doing which has overturned traditional dogma about electrolyte materials for lithium ion batteries needing to be amorphous to conduct, and led to the development of a rechargeable battery system that uses air as one of the electrodes - oxygen combines with lithium ions to make Li2O2 as the battery discharges, which can then be decomposed to regenerate oxygen gas and lithium ions - amazing! (You can read about much of the work in this chemistry world feature article)

This afternoon I went to a session about chemistry in the food chain, which had great talks from Ian Norton and Bob Rastall. Norton spoke about engineering food microstructures to make healthier foods that still taste good but keep you fuller for longer or contain less fat etc, whereas Rastall spoke about developing new prebiotic oligosaccharides that can promote proliferation of specific gut bacteria much more selectively than current ‘functional foods’. Unfortunately for his students, this meant quite a lot of analysis of poo - kindly provided by students from the university taking part in human trials…..

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